Coronavirus cases near 5,000: India plans to scale up testing

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Updated: April 8, 2020 8:49:47 AM

With the ICMR issuing an advisory for the use of rapid antibody tests in “areas reporting clusters (containment zone) and in large migration gatherings/ evacuees centres”, the serological tests are set to be conducted on a wider scale.

The testing protocol is likely to remain the same – symptomatic people with travel or contact history, health workers with symptoms.

Amid indications that some restrictions will continue even after the lockdown ends, all eyes are now on the test results as India prepares to massively scale-up testing over this week. The total number of cases touched 4,789 on Tuesday. “This you can say is the make-or-break week so far as the future course of the epidemic in India is concerned, whether we continue with the lockdown or not. The criticism has been that we did not test enough, but we have always maintained that if it (infection) was really happening that much, the death toll would not be so low, said a government source.

The government source added: “Also, influenza-like illnesses across the country have remained flat. But to test that hypothesis, we need to test. That is what we will do this week when we hope to get a definitive idea about the course of the disease.”

The testing protocol is likely to remain the same – symptomatic people with travel or contact history, health workers with symptoms, all hospitalised patients with severe acute respiratory illness (fever, cough etc), and asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed patient (once between days 5 and 14 of having come in contact).

With the ICMR issuing an advisory for the use of rapid antibody tests in “areas reporting clusters (containment zone) and in large migration gatherings/ evacuees centres”, the serological tests are set to be conducted on a wider scale.
With 11,795 (swab) tests, including 2,000 in private labs, being done in the last 24 hours, the total number of samples tested has touched 1,07,006.

“The idea is to double the number of tests every three-four days and reach about 40,000. The private labs obviously have better mobility and reach than us because they are making money,” said the source. Two high throughput testing machines have been pressed into service in Bhubaneswar and Noida, each with a capacity to test 1,300-1,400 samples daily. Twelve such machines have been ordered from Roche, and are expected to arrive in about three weeks.

There are also the TB testing machines CBNAAT and TRUNAT that have been pressed into COVID-19 service.
Environment Secretary C K Mishra, who heads the empowered group on hospitals, testing facilities etc, said: “The government is making every effort to ramp up testing and also working with states to see that it is delivered.”
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said the cluster containment strategy put in place in hotspots like Agra, Mumbai, Pathanamthitta and Bhilwara has started to show results.

In addition, in a bid to streamline care of COVID-19 patients, the ministry issued directions for categorisation of designated facilities into three groups – COVID care centres, COVID health centres and dedicated COVID hospitals.
The COVID care centres will be for cases that have been clinically assigned as mild or very mild, or suspected cases. The COVID health centres are hospitals that will offer care for all cases that have been clinically assigned as moderate. The dedicated COVID hospitals will offer comprehensive care primarily for those who have been clinically assigned as severe.

“The COVID care centres are makeshift facilities. These may be set up in hostels, hotels, schools, stadiums, lodges etc., both public and private.(COVID health centres) should either be a full hospital or a separate block in a hospital with preferably separate entry/ exit/ zoning.will have separate areas for suspect and confirmed cases. Suspect and confirmed cases should not be allowed to mix under any circumstances,” said the document prepared by the emergency medical response division of the Health Ministry.

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