Dr. Balram Bhargava, Director General of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), on Friday in a letter to Chief Secretaries of all states across the country, asked for testing for coronavirus in containment zones and hospitals to be ramped up. Mr. Bhargava in his letter stated, "Real Time RT-PCR is the gold standard test for detecting cases of Covid-19,". He added, "The test requires specialized laboratory setup with specific biosafety and biosecurity precautions to be followed. Average time taken is around 4-5 hours from receipt of sample to getting the result. The advantage of this platform lies in its accuracy of detection as well as ability to run up to 90 samples in a single run. However, in view of the specialized laboratory requirements, this test cannot be performed at every district level labs which do not have molecular virology facilities,".

Mr. Bhargava also said that TrueNat and CBNAAT systems for coronavirus diagnosis have been deployed taking into account the availability of customised cartridges for the identification of the infection. He added, "These platforms have widespread availability even at district and PHC as these platforms are widely used for diagnosis of Tuberculosis as well as other infectious diseases. These platforms have a quick turnaround time (30-60 minutes) but only 1-4 samples can be tested in one run, limiting the maximum numbers that can be tested to 24-48 samples per day,".

In view of the efforts needed to increase the testing capacity across the country, Mr. Bhargava stated that the ICMR has given the nod for 960 labs in total in the public and private sectors. He then went on to say, "However, in spite of these developments in testing, there is an urgent need to introduce rapid point of care diagnostic tests to make testing widely available in all parts of the country,". The ICMR chief then wrote saying, "Rapid antigen-based detection assays have been used successfully for early diagnosis of diseases like Malaria, Leishmania, viral and bacterial respiratory infections etc. Such tests can be used as point of care diagnostics in field settings and have minimal biosafety and biosecurity requirements. ln view of this, ICMR had been exploring alternate quick and reliable options for diagnosis of COVID-19."

Bhargava in his letter also spoke about how important testing should be made available to all symptomatic persons across the country as the current existing method of test, track and treatment is the only way to put a stop to the spread of the COVID-19 infection. He urged that contact tracing mechanisms in the country for the containment of the infection need to be further strengthened. He also said that all patients being tested must share one personal identity issued by the Indian government so as to establish the individual's credibility. He wrote saying, "It has been noted that the phone numbers shared by individuals at the time of testing are often incorrect. Therefore, it is advisable that at the time of testing, a missed call should be given on the shared phone number to verify its correctness,".