KOCHI: Expecting an early return to normalcy and resumption of ‘business as usual’ in the Middle East, Gulf-hopefuls stuck in the state have been approaching ICMR- approved private labs for ‘Covid-19 negative’ certificates, to meet the stipulation set by many companies abroad for employment. Most ICMR-approved private labs are at present collecting swab samples only when referred by concerned doctors through hospitals, and not through direct request from patients.
“We have the facility to collect samples but it is not done directly from the patient. If patients arrive for the Covid-19 test, we direct them to get the collection of samples undertaken through the hospital. We do not have PPE kits or testing facility here. We send the samples collected via hospitals to our main centre in Kochi, which has RT-PCR facility of testing for Covid-19,” said a staffer at DDRC SRL Services, Thiruvananthapuram. Many Gulf aspirants, as well as people who have already worked in the Gulf, turn up for Covid-19 negative certificate, he added.
“We get around 30 samples a day. The number of people approaching us has increased off late. Among the 30 samples, some have been submitted specifically with requests for ‘Covid-negative’ certificate,” he said. With the recent ICMR approval to four private labs in the state, a total of six privately managed labs and 14 government-run labs can now test for Covid-19.
“As per guidelines laid down by the UAE, our company had sent me a mail seeking ‘Covid-19 negative’ certificate. Though I knew fully well that I was not infected, I had no option but to get my swab samples tested and furnish the certificate as sought. I got in touch with the nearest primary health centre and from the doctor there, I went to DDRC in Kochi to get the test done on April 29. I got the result the next day as negative,” said Gopakumar, who had arrived from Dubai on March 1 for treatment for a week, but could not return due to spread of Covid-19.
DDRC SRL Diagnostics, Kochi, is one amongst the first private labs in the state to receive ICMR approval for Covid-19 testing. The lab got approval in mid-April. “Only here in Kochi do we have the facility of collecting samples from the patient directly for testing. We are geared up with enough PPE kits and masks in our labs for the procedure.
We are as yet to receive any request from patients for ‘Covid-19 negative’ certificates,” said K Unnikrishnan, general manager (Operations), DDRC, Kochi. According to sources, the Covid-19 test costs up to Rs 4,500 in a private testing facility. “We have so far tested over 300 samples. We get samples here mostly from hospitals, as they are yet to receive approval from the ICMR for Covid-19 testing at their labs,” said a staffer at MIMS Lab Services, Kozhikode.
Private hospitals have come up with a protocol to test all suspected cases as well as those coming from red zones in the state. “There should be a clear-cut protocol laid out for hospitals, clarifying the criteria to test for Covid-19, rather than burdening patients at their discretion with the test. They charge a hefty sum, compared to the `200-300 which is charged at government hospitals,” said a doctor who did not wish to be identified.