Coronavirus: All symptomatic cases could soon be tested, too

An empowered group that had been set up to look at the testing protocol met on Tuesday and deliberated upon the need to extend testing to all symptomatic people.

New Delhi: The government is thinking of expanding the testing protocol for Covid-19 infections to include all symptomatic cases, a senior government official said, as it looks to widen the scope of tests due to the increasing number of positive cases in the last few days.

At present, all patients with pneumonia or severe acute respiratory distress (SARI), and close contacts of Covid-19 positive patients are tested.

An empowered group that had been set up to look at the testing protocol met on Tuesday and deliberated upon the need to extend testing to all symptomatic people. “The empowered committee…reviewed the testing protocol. It has yet to take a decision on all symptomatic cases but it is under consideration,” the official said.

He clarified that India did not intend to go in for “mass testing” as was done in South Korea.

“The group is actively looking at testing protocols, strategy for identifying hotspots and clusters and how to augment testing resources,” the official said on condition of anonymity. On March 21, India expanded its testing protocol to cover more people. Public health experts have repeatedly called for scaling up of tests.

As per the current protocol, all asymptomatic patients who had undertaken international travel should be home quarantined for 14 days and should be tested only if they become symptomatic with fever, cough or difficulty in breathing.

If the test is positive, they should be isolated and treated as per the protocol.

Additionally, all contacts of laboratory confirmed positive cases should stay under home quarantine for 14 days and should be tested immediately only if they show the common symptoms of the disease.

The Indian Council of Medical Research, India’s nodal health research body, has also said that health care workers managing respiratory distress and severe acute respiratory illness should be tested when they are symptomatic.

The empowered committee decided to intensify and scale up testing at areas that report an increased number of cases. “These are the hotspots and the testing has to be intensified in these areas,” added the official.

Rajni Kant Srivastava, a scientist at ICMR, said since it was an evolving situation, scientists and epidemiologists have been keeping a close vigil and that a change in the testing strategy would be announced depending on the circumstances.

Balram Bhargava, Director-General of ICMR had said earlier that India was not heading towards a situation of mass testing as the objective was to avoid “indiscriminate testing”, reduce panic and to optimally utilise resources.

RR Gangakhedkar, chief epidemiologist at ICMR said it was wrong to compare India with other countries and their testing strategies.

“If you compare India with other countries, those countries have established that they are at Stage 3 (community transmission). The strategy will be different if we find any such evidence. The surveillance was done as to whether we have moved to community transmission. This surveillance is an ongoing activity and we will continue to monitor”.

According to ICMR, as on Tuesday, 42,788 samples have been tested and the government-run laboratories are testing at 36% capacity, even as the number of Covid-19 infections continue to increase in India, with 1,251 confirmed cases and 32 deaths so far.




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