Five lakh rapid test kits for COVID-19 have arrived in India from China, but these will not be used for diagnosing suspected cases, Indian Council of Medical Research said today, adding that these will be used only for monitoring overall trends in the general population. India has, this week, got delivery of around 5 lakh such kits, it said.
India has got delivery of 200,000 rapid test kits from Livzon and 300,000 rapid test kits from Wonpro, both based in China.
Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar, who heads ICMR’s Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases-I Division, also dismissed concerns around the ‘lack of reliability’ of Chinese rapid test kits.
Gangakhedkar said these kits are not meant for diagnostic use, nor should they be used for figuring out whether a person has COVID-19 or not.
He pointed out that these blood tests have a sensitivity and specificity of 80-84%, meaning that they ‘work’ only in 4 out of 5 cases.
“These rapid tests are not for early diagnosis…They are to be used only for surveillance, because even after 14 days [after infection], they show positive only in 80% of the people.”
He said the traditional swab test has to be used in cases where a person is assumed to be at a high risk of having contracted the virus, such as those who have interacted closely a proven COVID-19 patient.
Instead, these rapid test kits, which work by looking for antibodies in the blood, will be used in the broader population to make sure that the virus is not spreading in the community. Given this scenario, he said, it doesn’t matter even if it is able to pick out only 4 out of 5 positive cases as the number of samples will be quite high.
NO SCARCITY OF TEST KITS
The scientist also dismissed reports that India is running short of the traditional, swab kits used for detecting Coronavirus.
Indian authorities have been criticized for failing to conduct ‘enough tests’ given the large population in the country.
Critics point out that even the US, a country with one fourth the population of India, is testing 1.5 lakh people per day. In comparison, India is testing only around 30,000 people per day.
There have been reports in various media, including the BBC, that doctors in India were being forced to think hard about which patient to administer a test, due to a paucity of kits.
Gangakhedkar accepted that India had only enough stock to test for 6 weeks till about “three or four days ago”. But that situation is being corrected, he said.
“Today, we have neough for eight weeks.”
He also said we are not scrimping on testing, and enough tests are being conducted, given our number of cases.
The scientist pointed out that the total number of tests conducted in the UK is only three times the total number of COVID-19 patients in the country. In comparison, he said, we have conducted over 2.9 lakh tests, which 24 times the total number of Coronavirus patients in India.
The traditional diagnostic test for Coronavirus 2019, known as COVID-19 RT-PCR test, is now being made available to more people, he added.
Under the new rules, anyone who shows influenza-like symptoms, such as cough and fever in designated hotspot districts, even if the person has had no contact with any COVID-19 patient.
So far, RT-PCR tests were reserved only for those who were showing COVID-19 symptoms and either have a history of travel to COVID-infected countries or have come in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient.
Healthcare workers showing COVID-19 symptoms have also been eligible to get RT-PCR tests.
RT-PCR tests are also being made available to contacts of confirmed contacts of COVID-19 patients after 5 or 14 days, he said, adding that those suffering from severe acute respiratory infection or SARI are also eligible to get this test.
The tests are being conducted in 176 centers under the government sector. Besides this, there are 78 private companies that offer COVID-19 RT-PCR tests in India, with nearly 16,000 collection centers across the country, ICMR said.
Given the current infrastructure, it said, India can conduct 78,242 tests per day.
Gangakhedkar also addressed the question of whether a Coronavirus patient who has recovered from the infection gets permanent, life-long immunity from the disease or not.
The verdict, he said, is yet to be arrived at, and more research is need.
In some cases, like chicken pox, he pointed out, the antibody produced by humans is enough to confer lifelong immunity to the patient from that disease. But in other cases, such as HIV, the antibodies are not effective in controlling the virus’ proliferation subsequently.
“We don’t have research on this,” he said.
Similarly, he said, it is not possible to say whether atmospheric temperature will have an impact on the spread of the virus.
“There are some who say that in the summer, the water droplets [coming out of the mouth of the infected person] will evaporate in the air fast and therefore the rate of spread will be lower. But, strictly speaking, we can’t say for sure right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the total number of COVID-19 infections in India has touched the 13,000 mark, out of which around 1,600 have recovered and around 430 have died.
Maharashtra continued to be the state with the highest number of cases, at around 3,100, followed by Delhi with around 1,600 and Tamil Nadu with around 1,270 and Madhya Pradesh with around 1,115.