Coronavirus update: 16 private labs can now conduct Covid-19 tests
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex biomedical research body, on Monday approved 10 more private laboratories including Dr Lal PathLabs, Dr Dangs Lab and Indraprastha Apollo Delhi in Delhi to test for the coronavirus disease, taking to 16 the number of private facilities that can begin collecting samples whenever they are ready.
ICMR, however, did not expand its criteria for people to be able to take the test, with only those with travel history and symptoms and people in direct contact with positive cases eligible to have their samples taken.
Several experts have raised concerns over tests not being carried out aggressively or randomly enough, saying that a ramped up approach could stop a silent spread of the highly contagious pathogen. South Korea, for instance, has set up drive-through tests, where samples are collected within minutes and people get their reports the next day.
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Other than the three labs in the Capital, two Tamil Nadu-based labs – Department of Clinical Virology, CMC, Vellore, and Department of Laboratory Services, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai – Mumbai-based SRL Limited, Haryana-based Strand Life Sciences and SRL Limited, Gujarat-based Supratech Micropath Laboratory & Research Institute and Apollo Hyderabad in Telangana were approved to carry out tests. Six other private labs were approved by ICMR on Sunday.
“Our experts are looking at the lab requests and giving approvals in batches. As of today, 12 private labs have been approved that will increase the collection and testing capacity. These 12 lab chains put together have about 15,000 collection centres across India,” ICMR director general Dr Balram Bhargava said earlier in the day before four more labs were cleared for testing.
All these labs have fulfilled ICMR conditions mandatory for private facilities to collect samples and test them. The conditions include National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories accreditation with real time Polymerase Chain Reaction testing for RNA virus and presence of all testing material, except the structure of the virus that ICMR will share. Real time reporting of the cases to the government has to be carried out through local surveillance units.
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“We have been given approval for testing, and we will totally be following the ICMR guidelines; only those with prescription issued by a qualified doctor will be tested,” said Dr Naveen Dang, founder, Dr Dangs Lab, Delhi.
Close to 60 private laboratories had approached ICMR for registration since the organisation issued guidelines for private labs intending to test for Covid-19. It is mandatory for private laboratories to register with ICMR to be able to conduct the test for the new disease, which has killed at least 15,000 people globally.
ICMR is also in the process of fast-tracking approvals for commercial testing kits.
“Our nodal laboratory in National Institute of Virology in Pune is looking at the quality of kits, and has already approved two kits by Indian manufacturers. Apart from FDA- and European CE-approved kits, ICMR-certified kits will also be eligible to be used for testing in labs across India,” said Dr Bhargava.
There are about 116 government laboratories that ICMR has earmarked for Covid-19 testing, including 72 of ICMR’s own viral research and diagnostic laboratories (VRDLs). Thirty-one of the government laboratories have so far been approved for both preliminary and confirmatory testing across India.
“Indiscriminate testing is not the solution; the solution lies in isolation to break the transmission cycle, which is why lockdown is a pertinent step,” Bhargava said. Since mid-January, India has tested 18,500 samples.