All about COVID-19

Private firms ready to test for COVID-19

‘The relatively low mortality and cases compared to other countries likely guiding govt.’s approach’

Companies that offer diagnostic tests say they have the capacity to mass-test for COVID-19 but have mixed responses to India’s policy of restricting testing to government laboratories.

COVID-19 | Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

The Mumbai-headquartered Metropolis Labs, a chain of diagnostic labs with a presence across India, said they had already set up a “dedicated and isolated” COVID-19 laboratory and were awaiting the Union Health Ministry’s permission.

State Helpline numbers

The company had already been “approved” by the Mumbai Municipal Commissioner for offering testing services. “We are getting another facility ready on standby and this would be ready in the next seven days. We are importing kits from Altona, Germany for sample testing,” Ameera Shah, Promoter & Managing Director, Metropolis Healthcare Limited, said in a statement.

Watch | COVID-19: Masks and sanitisers are now essential commodities

The tests are real time polymerase chain reaction tests (RT-PCR) that can, within a day — sometimes in hours — confirm the presence of SARS-COV2, the virus responsible for the ongoing pandemic. All of these tests are proprietary products of multinational pharma companies and Indian laboratories must firm up licensing deals, order kits and appropriate chemicals, and train staff to use them.

Other leading laboratories said they were having “discussions” with the Health Ministry regarding allowing private diagnostic companies to test. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has currently authorised 65 diagnostic centres across the country and claims to be able to test at least 10,000 a day but, as a policy, has restricted testing to only those showing symptoms — of cough, fever and breathing difficulties — and having a travel history, or a link, to COVID-19-affected countries.

Low mortality

One company official said the relatively low mortality in India and cases compared to other countries and directives to quarantine international travellers were likely guiding India’s approach to testing. “We are interacting with government every day,” said Arvind Lal, Chairman and Managing Director, Lal Pathlabs, “The sense is that the government has enough capacity now and when they needs us we are there. During the swine flu outbreak of 2009, the government eventually involved the private sector and we offered tests at ₹4,500.”

Demand for test kits

Navin Dang, Co-founder and Director, Dr. Dangs Labs, said the industry as a whole was equipped to handle a “million cases in India ” if the need arose, however given the global nature of disease there could be shortages in procuring reagents as well as difficulty in scaling demand to produce test kits. “There’s a concern among people and I’ve personally met some who feel they are sick but are afraid of going to government hospitals. Shouldn’t they have that option?” he argued.

ICMR tests

To concerns that the virus may be circulating among some, undetected, in India — or exhibiting community transmission — the ICMR said it had started to test 150-250 samples from those exhibiting flu symptoms to determine this and would be able to get a sense later this week. “So far we have no evidence. Moreover, restricting testing to government facilities means we can also effectively quarantine and treat patients and monitor their contacts,” R. Gangakhedkar, who leads epidemiology efforts at the ICMR, said at a press briefing on Monday.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:08:51 PM |

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