Coronavirus challenge: Govt planning 150-fold increase in COVID-19 testing

By: |
March 27, 2020 12:01 AM

The ICMR has prioritised urgent delivery of the new kits, asking potential suppliers to state the maximum supply capability for the first week, at six locations.

The government is planning a 150-fold increase in testing capacity for the coronavirus, taking the total capacity to 37 lakh tests. Till now (March 25, 8 pm) the government has conducted 25,144 tests. A general criticism of India’s anti-corona strategy has been that it is testing too little; that is seen as the main reason for the low number of infected persons.

On March 17, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had said that the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, had already placed orders for reagents to carry out 10 lakh tests and that the WHO was being requested to provide for 10 lakh further tests.

On Wednesday, ICMR invited quotations from the private sector for supplying kits to carry out 17 lakh tests. Of the 17 lakh test-capacity, 7 lakh will be based on viral RNA extraction —6.3 lakh manual extraction and 70,000 automated extraction — and the remaining 10 lakh tests will be based on antibody (serological) testing for the viral antigen.

The kits that can qualify for these tests need to be certified by either the NIV or carry the US FDA’s Emergency Usage Authorization or the European Union’s CE In Vitro Diagnostics. At a later date, perhaps, the government may also include kits approved by National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) in Pune, National Institute of Pathology in New Delhi, and National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) in Kolkata.

Interestingly, the initial guidelines for testing by private laboratories only spoke of US FDA and European CE approval. This would have seriously curtailed domestic testing-kit procurement, given, as per a report in The Times of India, only one manufacturer’s testing kits would have qualified.

The ICMR has prioritised urgent delivery of the new kits, asking potential suppliers to state the maximum supply capability for the first week, at six locations: Dibrugarh, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bhopal. It has also asked bidders to specify rate per kit and also the number of tests that can be performed by one kit, to arrive at a per test rate. Testing fees by private labs have been capped at Rs 4,500 per test.

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