The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Indian Council of Medical Research have issued guidelines on 17th March 2020, detailing the testing process for COVID-19 in India.
It is the firm belief of government authorities that India is currently (as of mid-March 2020) in its second stage of COVID-19 transmission. These guidelines have been issued to contain the spread of this infection via community transmission (stage III) by providing free of cost and reliable diagnosis to every person who meets the eligibility for COVID-19 testing.
The guidelines state that the government will provide free testing although the cost of first step screening assay is INR 1500 and additional confirmatory assays is INR 3000. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has engaged with non-ICMR/MoHFW government laboratories to initiate testing facilities, to expand the number of laboratories testing for COVID-19. This includes CSIR, DBT, DRDO, government medical colleges etc. The testing strategies are being continually reviewed and the advisories issued for testing are being updated regularly (i.e. on 9th March 2020 and on 16th March 2020).
The current testing strategy states the following:
i. All asymptomatic people who have undertaken international travel should stay in home quarantine for 14 days. They should be tested only if they have developed symptoms of COVID-19 like fever, cough, difficulty in breathing etc.
ii. Every person in contact with patients confirmed positive by the laboratory should stay in home quarantine for 14 days. They should be tested only if they have developed symptoms of COVID-19.
iii. Health care workers managing respiratory distress/severe illness should be tested when they develop symptoms of COVID-19.
The guidelines further contained provision for private laboratories planning to initiate testing for COVID-19. It, inter alia, states:
i. Laboratories shall test only those patients whose testing has been prescribed by a qualified physician as per ICMR guidance for testing.
ii. Commercial kits may be used for testing based on the validations conducted by lCMR’s National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.
iii. Private testing laboratories shall take all appropriate bio-safety and bio-security precautions while collecting samples and may consider creating a separate collection site for COVID-19 samples.
iv. All the private testing laboratories shall report on real-time basis to the state officials of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program of the Government of India and to the ICMR headquarters in order to enable them to timely initiate the tracing of contacts and for research activities.
On 21 March 2020, ICMR has permitted private laboratories to carry out testing if certain conditions are satisfied. Private laboratories are not permitted to charge more than INR 4,500 per test.
It is to be hoped that, as the private and public sector join hands, they become a formidable infrastructure in the fight against COVID-19.