Coronavirus Update in India: Private laboratories must offer COVID-19 diagnosis at zero cost, demands ICMR
Photo by Bhushan Koyande

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex health research body, has issued guidelines for private sector intending to initiate COVID-19 testing. Laboratory test should be only offered when prescribed by a qualified physician as per ICMR guidance for testing. Private laboratories should offer COVID-19 diagnosis at no cost and they should ensure immediate/ real-time reporting to the State officials of IDSP (Integrated Disease Surveillance Program of Govt of India) and ICMR headquarters for timely initiation of contact tracing and research activities.

ICMR will share the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for laboratory testing and provide positive controls for establishing the test as soon as the concerned private laboratory has procured the primers, probes and reagents as per SOPs. Adoption of commercial kits for testing should be based on validations conducted by ICMR-National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.

Further, private laboratories will have to ensure appropriate biosafety and biosecurity precautions while collecting samples from a suspect patient. Alternatively, a disease specific separate collection site may be created.

ICMR is having a dialogue with high-quality private labs that includes labs accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) to understand the modalities of increasing access to the test in the endeavour to prepare for future.

ICMR enables more laboratories to test for COVID-19 and revises the criteria for testing. It has activated more laboratories to test for COVID-19 and revised the testing criteria for the same. The Council has equipped 72 of its laboratories to test for the pandemic disease. In addition to these labs 49 more laboratories under organizations like Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and Defence Research, Development Organisation (DRDO) would be equipped to test for COVID-19 by end of this week. ICMR will also be setting up two testing locations (NCR and Bhubaneswar) for high throughput diagnostic systems for exponentially increasing rapid diagnosing of COVID-19. These systems can test up to 1400 samples in a day.

ICMR has also revised the testing criteria for COVID-19 under which an individual should home quarantine themselves for 14 days if they qualify for direct close physical contact of laboratory-confirmed positive case and history of travel in last 14 days to high risk COVID-19 affected countries.

ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said, “We at ICMR are regularly monitoring for community transmissions. Our labs are looking at random samples of patients who suffer from influenza-like illnesses/ Severe Acute Respiratory Illness for presence of the COVID-19.'' He informed that so far, these results are negative thus implying that India has not reached the stage for community transmissions.

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