NEW DELHI: Flagging the issue of many states “restricting” tests to identify COVID-19 cases, the Centre on Wednesday asked them to fully utilise the private laboratories and also to do away with the requirement of a test prescription by only government doctors.
In a letter sent out to state chief secretaries, Union health secretary Preeti Sudan and Indian Council of Medical Research director general Dr Balram Bhargava said that testing is a key tool to “contain the virus and save precious lives.”
The instructions come as the number of confirmed cases in the country reached 5,85,493 while the deaths recorded due to the infection stand at 17,400. The test positivity rate in most states are very high--indicating that they may not be testing enough.
Stressing that "test-track-treat" is the key strategy to contain the pandemic, the government underlined that ICMR has so far approved 1,049 laboratories for Covid 19 testing of which 761 are government labs and 288 are private ones.
In addition, rapid antigen-based testing kits which can check for the presence of the virus by testing blood samples from suspects by one company has also been validated and more such kits could get approved soon to give more testing options to people, the Centre said.
“However, it has been observed that in some states/UTs, the capacity utilisation of the testing labs particularly in the private sector is grossly sub-optimal,” the letter said.
It further said that some states had mandated the need of a prescription from a government doctor for making an individual eligible to undergo Covid 19 test.
“In view of the increased workload on government healthcare facilities, this mandatory requirement may at times pose an impediment for an individual to get tested and lead to unnecessary delays,” the letter added.
The Centre stressed that at this juncture, it is “absolutely necessary to facilitate testing at the earliest by enabling all qualified doctors to prescribe Covid 19 test to individuals fulfilling ICMR’s testing criteria.
In its revised testing guideline about a week back, the ICMR had said that anyone with Covid 19 symptoms—irrespective of the area they come from and their contact history—should be tested for the infectious disease.
“In fact, the ICMR strongly recommends that laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance with its guidelines and state authorities must not restrict an individual from getting tested as early testing will contain the virus and save lives,” said the communique.
The Centre also directed that efforts should be made in “campaign mode” by setting up camps or using mobile vans in high incidence areas to collect samples of all symptomatic individuals as well as their contacts, and get their samples tested with antigen tests.
It added that positive individuals should be treated according to the treatment protocol and negative individuals should be tested using RTPCR tests, considered the gold standard for Covid 19 testing.
The health ministry also said that the rate for RTPCR tests by private labs should be finalised. While some states have fixed the test rates, many others have left it for the private lab themselves to decided—leading to them charging upto Rs 4,500 per test as per ICMR’s earliest rate guidelines.