Covid testing: RT-PCR the standard for international travellers, locals must make do with RAT?

By: |
August 4, 2020 5:20 AM

What is a bit odd, though, is that the government should believe that people arriving from abroad should produce RT-PCR negative reports, even as testing in the national capital should be RAT-led.

To that end, the government’s move to allow for home quarantine by international travellers is a good oneTo that end, the government’s move to allow for home quarantine by international travellers is a good one.

Travellers arriving in India via international flights will be exempted from institutional quarantine, if they can show an emergency such as death in the family, pregnancy, etc, or can produce a negative test report for SARS-CoV-2 from the preceding 96 hours. The test, however, can only be RT-PCR. Given how people have to learn to live with the virus, governments also will need to figure out ways to balance normal activity with efforts to contain the spread of the virus. To that end, the government’s move to allow for home quarantine by international travellers is a good one.

What is a bit odd, though, is that the government should believe that people arriving from abroad should produce RT-PCR negative reports, even as testing in the national capital should be RAT-led. What is sauce for the goose, should be sauce for the gander. If an international traveller is to be allowed home quarantine only upon producing an RT-PCR report—that test is considered to be the gold standard, though it has far from perfect sensitivity (resulting in some false negatives)—why are asymptomatic people residing in India who test negative with RAT, which has a significantly lower sensitivity, not tested with RT-PCR? If they are infected and are asymptomatic/pre-symptomatic, the reliance on RAT can prove deadly. And, while Delhi, one of the worst-affected regions in the country, has been stepping up its reliance on RAT, there are reports that neighbouring Uttar Pradesh may be following suit. But, one can hardly blame the states—the ICMR guidelines call for confirmatory RT-PCR testing of only symptomatic RAT-negatives. Till the time such haphazard testing strategy is treated, it will remain difficult to control the pandemic.

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