“India has to utilise this period to develop testing infrastructure so that it can screen large numbers of people immediately after the lockdown is relaxed. While it is anybody’s guess now, one can assume that the lockdown would be lifted in stages,” said a senior doctor, who is also working closely with the government on the issue.
Medical staffers wearing protective gear, part of a special unit performing house calls, work in Bergamo, northern Italy, one of the areas worse-affected by coronavirus.
India has tested 26,798 individuals so far, a low number compared to Western countries, but a complete lockdown may just serve the cause.
However, as ICMR has enquired about production capacity and supply timelines, it was initially looking for kits that were approved by international authorities like the US Food and Drug
Administration (USFDA). With pressure mounting and time running out, the agency has now relaxed norms to allow test kits with 100 per cent concordance among true positive and true negative samples for commercial use in India.
Private companies have stepped on the gas. Gujarat-based CoSara Diagnostics is ready to supply around 10,000 kits a day from April. It has a partnership with a US-based company. Swiss multinational Roche and others have also been given a licence by the drug regulator to evaluate the quality of kits.
Institute of Virology, Pune, is in the process of validating antibody-based screening kits. Sources say ICMR has started receiving test kits from South Korea, Germany and now expects to get a million kits from the World health Organization.
“Locations have been identified where these kits would be stocked. However, given the severity of the outbreak, kits from other countries are taking time to reach. A batch has already come from South Korea,” said a source.
An official measures the temperature of a visitor using an infrared thermometer at the entrance of a bank, following the outbreak of coronavirus
in Srinagar. Photo: PTI
Meanwhile, the cost of the PCR test (around Rs 4,500) is deterring individuals from opting for it. About 90 per cent of queries fizzle out after they realise that the cost is not borne by the government.
On the first day of testing, Thyrocare received 3,000 enquiries, of which 30 agreed for the test. Out of this 30, almost 90 per cent requested collection executives to not visit their homes in protective equipment. “They were worried about the neighbours getting to know,” said A Velumani, founder and chairman of Thyrocare.
ICICI Securities said that Metropolis Healthcare management has indicated that they were preparing to ramp up testing capacity to thousands a day. They plan to source kits from multiple vendors to avoid bottlenecks.
“ICMR has been testing 50-60 cases per day per machine despite their capability of 500. This was due to stringent testing profile criteria of travel history. Metropolis believes that with 30 per cent capacity, private companies would be able to support 70 per cent of the requirement,” ICICI Securities noted.
Once the antibody kits (for blood test) are ready, many labs could also offer it for free for the poor, felt government sources. This would expand testing to the hinterland.