NEW DELHI: Making a major change in its COVID-19 testing policy, the Centre has decided to carry out random antibody tests in areas identified as hotspots to assess the extent of community transmission there.
So far, 20 areas in states have been marked as hotspots while 22 others have been identified as potential hotspots—indicating that clusters of COVID-19 infection have erupted in those areas. These areas are spread across 12-13 states including Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh among others.
The Indian Council of Medical Research under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday said in an 'interim advisory for use of rapid antibody test for COVID-19 in hotspot areas' that “population in hotspot areas may be tested using rapid antibody tests."
“Antibody positives to be confirmed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test using throat or nasal swab and antibody negatives to be quarantined at home,” the advisory added.
An emergency meeting of a 21-member national task force on COVID-19 prevention and management under Dr V K Paul, member (health) Niti Aayog, has been called later on Thursday to finalize the details of the testing protocol.
“Anibody test is a strong tool to understand the degree of spread of an outbreak in a population,” a senior ICMR official told The New Indian Express. “When someone gets infected with SARS Cov2, the immune system fights the virus by producing antibodies which are specific to this pathogen,” he explained.
“Even after the person has recovered from a particular viral infection, antibodies against the microbe will stay in the body. So if the person’s swab or blood are examined it can be detected if they have already been infected with the virus,” he added.
So far the government under its testing protocol was allowing only symptomatic persons with international travel history, their close contacts with symptoms, healthcare workers with symptoms and hospitalized patients with severe acute respiratory illnesses to be tested for the coronavirus.
Amid charges that the government needs to expand its testing base, the government has maintained that the outbreak is limited to imported or local transmission with only "limited community transmission" yet.
“We are now opening up random testing in the population to revise our strategy further,” said an official in the health ministry.