New test strategy for Covid-19? Rapid antibody tests in hot spots

NEW DELHI: Government likely to expand its testing strategy for Covid-19 to allow the use of rapid antibody tests in symptomatic cases in hotspot areas, although these results will need to be confirmed by a nasal swab RT-PCR test or throat to detect the presence of genetic material from the.

Rapid tests will be carried out in symptomatic cases and even those who test negative for antibody tests will be quarantined at home, official sources said. The effort is to contain critical points that can become centers of transmission of the disease, a task that has become even more urgent as a result of migrant workers arriving at homes in certain areas that have been labeled as high-risk areas.

While a final decision on this is expected on Friday morning, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) issued an interim notice on Thursday about the use of the rapid antibody test, also known as a serology test. “The empowered group has made the decision that the tests should be expanded. ICMR is working on modalities and a final decision will be made tomorrow, an official said, adding that even those with milder symptoms at identified critical points will be evaluated under the new protocol.

ICMR chief epidemiologist Dr. RR Gangakhedkar said at the government's regular briefing on Thursday that the test protocol is being revised in light of some new tests and that a decision will be made on Friday morning.

The surveillance department of the health ministry together with the state governments have identified 61 critical points with a large number of cases and 10 high-risk areas with fewer cases but with a higher density of people.

Sources said the implementation of the new test standards will depend on the availability of test kits expected to be available shortly. “ICMR has ordered over a million serology test kits from China and South Korea. They will arrive at any moment, but whether that will be enough is a question. The final decision depends on who we want to test given the limited availability of test kits, another senior official said.

The decision was made by the Empowered Group, one of 11 formed to consider various aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, which analyzes disease surveillance, testing and the availability of hospitals and isolation beds, etc.

Currently, symptomatic individuals who have traveled internationally in the past 14 days, symptomatic contacts of Covid-19 positive cases, and symptomatic health workers are undergoing testing for coronavirus. In addition to this, on March 21, the government and the ICMR revised their strategy to include all hospitalized patients with severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) for the test.

Following a surge in positive cases following the exodus of workers from the cities to their villages and the recent spread of the infection through the Nizamuddin congregation in Delhi, the government has been restructuring its Covid-19 containment strategy to focus on the critical points and high risk areas.

Critical points and high-risk areas are small towns or cities and even districts in some cases, depending on the burden of positive or suspected cases. The containment strategy for Covid-19 will focus on these two categories and the resources will be implemented accordingly, said a health ministry official.

According to the provisional notice, CE-IVD approved kits can be used directly for antibody testing after approval by the General Drug Controller of India (DCGI) and intimidation of ICMR.

Currently, there are four countries (China, South Korea, Japan, and the US) that manufacture antibody test kits to detect Covid-19. However, amid high demand for these kits and reagents, most of these countries are holding stocks for their own use as they all face the crisis.

As of Wednesday, there were 126 public labs, with only 38% utilization capacity. In addition, 51 private laboratories have also been approved by ICMR. >