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India Revises Covid-19 Strategy, Asks Hospitals to Test All Patients Admitted With Severe Respiratory Illness

Hyderabad: Medics interact with an Indonesian tourist at COVID-19 helpdesk, in the wake of deadly coronavirus, at Hyderabad Gandhi Hospital, Monday, March 16, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Hyderabad: Medics interact with an Indonesian tourist at COVID-19 helpdesk, in the wake of deadly coronavirus, at Hyderabad Gandhi Hospital, Monday, March 16, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Indian Council of Medical Research's initial strategy of testing those with a travel history and showing symptoms, and those who came in contact with persons having a travel history will continue.

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Nikhil Ghanekar

New Delhi: As cases in India see a faster rise, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) has revised its testing strategy and, most crucially, asked hospitals to now test all those patients hospitalised with severe acute respiratory illness (fever and cough and/or shortness of breath). It has also asked to test those asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts that have come in touch with a confirmed case.

Such persons will have to be tested once between day 5 and day 14 of coming in contact of a Covid-19 positive person. “Direct and high-risk contact includes those who live in the same household with a confirmed case and healthcare workers who examined a confirmed case without adequate protection as per WHO recommendations.”

The initial strategy of testing those with a travel history and showing symptoms, and those who came in contact with persons having a travel history will continue.

Seen together with the union health ministry’s advisory issued to hospitals and medical institutions on Friday, it marks a significant shift in the strategy to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak crisis facing the country. The advisory had said that no suspected Covid-19 patient should be turned away from any hospital and the admission of any such patient should be notified to National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) or Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) immediately. It added, “Similarly, all pneumonia patients must also be notified to NCDC or IDSP so that they can be tested for Covid-19.”

It was not clear immediately as to what prompted the government to change its strategy. Calls to ICMR’s head of epidemiology and communicable diseases, Dr Raman R Gangakhedkar and Dr Nivedita Gupta, scientist, epidemiology and communicable diseases, went unanswered.

The union health ministry and ICMR, the country’s apex biomedical research body, have steadfastly maintained that the strategy to test only those with travel history was enough because Covid-19 cases in the country were largely due to those who had travelled to epicentres of the outbreak such as China and Italy.

Even though officials had not said it on record, some admitted on the condition of anonymity that there were concerns regarding the vast resources that might be required to make testing for coronavirus liberal. Earlier this week, ICMR said that it was expanding its testing capacity to 121 labs, adding 49 to the already functional 72 ones. It is also moving towards allowing private labs to test for Covid-19 after finalising price cap for testing.


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