The “test, test, test” prescription of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is not for India, Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday, stressing that community transmission of COVID-19 has not yet occurred.
Dr. Bhargava, however, also announced that 51 private laboratories [accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)] will soon be allowed to test for COVID-19 to enhance capacity for diagnosis and detection in addition to the 72 functional laboratories.
“The WHO criteria are not country specific and we have told the country office of the Organisation that statements like these spread panic and fear. This is more applicable for Europe, U.K., Italy, etc.,” he said. “While we cannot say that we have contained and avoided community transmission, we did close our international borders very early.”
On Monday, Director-General of WHO said: “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”
ICMR also released a preliminary report of its sample testing for community transmission and noted that 500 of 1020 samples picked up to get trends and indications of third stage transmission have all tested negative. “We will have the full report in within a day or two,” the ICMR chief said.
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He added that currently there is no evidence of community transmission and that the random samples, picked up (between March 1-15) from ICU patients who have been admitted with respiratory distress, have shown no indication of community transmission.
“India has witnessed only imported cases of COVID-19 and limited local transmission from imported cases to their immediate contacts. Community transmission of the disease has not been documented till now. If community transmission is documented, our testing strategy will undergo changes to evolve into stage appropriate testing strategy,’’ the ICMR chief added.
ICMR has also scaled up its testing operations and has released revised testing guidelines which includes testing norms for health care workers looking after patients with respiratory distress.
“Health care workers managing respiratory distress / Severe Acute Respiratory Illness should be tested when they are symptomatic,” the Council said.
The revised norms specify that all asymptomatic patients, who have taken international flights in the past 14 days, should get tested as per current protocol if they develop symptoms. Also symptomatic people who come in close contact with laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases must be tested.
Announcing a major scale-up of testing facilities, ICMR said: “We appeal to all private laboratories to offer COVID-19 diagnosis free of cost. We have 72 functional ICMR laboratories in government sector for testing and 49 — more under organisations like Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and Defence Research, Development Organisation (DRDO) — will be active by the month end. Private NABL accredited laboratories will soon be operationalised,” Dr. Bhargava said.
“The ICMR was approached by several private players who want to contribute and talks are on with 51 NABL accredited private laboratories. We will give them standard operating procedure and will also maintain strict standard control,” added Dr. Bhargava