Though the Centre repeatedly asked states and Union territories to increase the proportion of RT-PCR tests to at least 70 per cent of all Covid-19 tests being conducted, the Indian Council of Medical Research, in its new testing guideline issued on Tuesday, has talked about reducing RT-PCR tests to take the load off the existing laboratories.
ICMR has recommended no RT-PCR tests if
> An individual has tested positive by rapid antigen test.
> An individual has tested positive once by RT-PCR test.
> One has completed 10 days home isolation period with no fever for the last three days.
> At the time of hospital discharge.
> A healthy individual is undertaking interstate domestic travel. While this is a requirement imposed by states, ICMR said this can completely be removed to reduce the load on laboratories.
At a national level, India can test close to 15 lakh tests in its 2,506 molecular testing laboratories, including RT-PCR, TrueNat, CBNAAT and other platforms. But with a sudden surge in the number of RT-PCR tests and many staff testing positive and thus being relieved from duties, the laboratories are overburdened. It is taking over 72 hours to process one RT-PCR test now.
Given this situation, the ICMR is recommending bringing back the focus on Rapid Antigen Testing for mass detection. RAT may be allowed at all available government and private healthcare facilities, in cities, towns, villages, at offices, schools, colleges, community centres and other vacant spaces. Drive through RAT facilities may also be created, the ICMR said.
Who should take RT-PCR tests then?
According to ICMR, individuals with symptoms identified negative by rapid antigen testing should be linked with RT-PCR test facility.
Writing vaccine status mandatory
The ICMR has made it mandatory to enter the information of vaccination status in the testing form for RAT or RT-PCR. This information is of critical importance, the ICMR said. This comes in the wake of people testing positive after one or both doses of the vaccines.
Suspect case of Covid-19
While getting tested first was recommended before, in the current upsurge of Covid-19 cases, the ICMR says, any individual presenting with fever (with or without cough), headache, sore throat, breathlessness, body ache, the recent loss of taste or smell, fatigue and diarrhea should be considered as a suspect case of Covid-19 unless proven otherwise by confirmation of another etiology.