NEW DELHI: India is in stage II of the Covid-19 epidemic – in which the transmission of the disease is limited to those who have a history of travel to the affected countries and others in contact with infected people – and efforts government officials are geared towards stopping or at least delaying the move to the next stage, said director general of the Indian Medical Research Council Balram Bhargava.
The move to the next stage could possibly occur, but by delaying it, India is better preparing to locate and contain the situation, said Dr. Bhargava. “India has about a 30-day window to stop the start of community transmission of Covid-19 cases. The time for action is now,” he said.
In stage III, the virus begins to spread through the community. This is followed by stage IV, when the disease takes the form of an epidemic, when the ongoing transmission does not have a clear endpoint. China and Italy are in stage VI of the Covid-19 epidemic. Bhargava said the government is taking all possible containment measures to halt, or at least delay, the progression of the stage III epidemic.
Dr R R Gangakhedkar, the main ICMR epidemiologist, said that only those with Covid-19 symptoms were tested as present. “All subjects with flu symptoms should not undergo the test because the spread of the disease is currently limited. Even among those with a travel history or possible contact with an infected individual, the test is recommended only if it has symptoms of Covid- 19. This because if the test is conducted in an asymptomatic individual, the viral load is likely to be lower and this may lead to false negative results. That individual may have a false sense of security and continue to spread the disease, “he said. ICMR scientists said that testing advice could be changed if there is sufficient evidence of Covid-19 reaching stage III.
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“At ICMR, we have a network of 106 virus research and diagnosis (VRDL) laboratories across the country. We regularly receive samples of influenza-like diseases (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infection (SARI). Between February 15 and on February 29, he asked 13 of these labs to take 20 random samples and test them for Covid-19 to see if the novel coronavirus had spread to the community as well. All samples tested negative. The exercise will be repeated on March 15 to assess whether community broadcasting is happening or not. Depending on the results, further measures on test guidelines will be taken, “said the head of the ICMR.
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But does India have enough test kits to increase the diagnosis if Covid-19 spreads exponentially, affecting communities or taking epidemic proportions? Bhargava said that in terms of testing capability, the labs available are currently underutilized. “The 51 laboratories designated for testing Covid-19 swab samples are capable of conducting 4,590 tests per day. At the moment, we are only getting 60 to 70 samples per day. So, at the moment, the laboratories are heavily underutilized. In the future, if demand increases, we have made arrangements to ensure that the lab’s network can expand early enough to handle the situation, “said the ICMR general manager.
“There are currently over 57 sample collection centers in progress. These can be easily expanded. Two key chemicals are needed for testing, the primer and the probe. The primer can be prepared locally while the probes need to be purchased. The network the ICMR laboratory has a series of lakh probes available and two additional lakh probes are being acquired, we have also been contacted by important international companies that have prepared the test kits and are willing to supply them also based on the validation of their requests test and need, we will procure more chemicals and kits to ensure there is no shortage of testing facilities, “said Bhargava. ICMR experts said they hadn’t thought about private laboratories and hospitals yet for testing. “We will think about if and when the need arises,” they said.
India conducted 6,500 tests of which, according to the data, only 78 (1.4%) were confirmed positive. “We also tested around 1,000 people who were evacuated from China, Iran and Italy,” said an ICMR official, adding that India was well prepared for any situation.
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