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Covid-19 tests in India: The faster, the better

Covid-19 tests in India: The faster, the betterFor representational purpose
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How much testing is to be done? Now, with the coronavirus threatening the world, will it do for a country to test only those with corona-specific symptoms? With many health experts warning that India is testing very less, the number of cases steadily rising and the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi taking up 'testing' as his key complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it now appears that the national government is ready to face the truth.

How much testing is to be done? Now, with the coronavirus threatening the world, will it do for a country to test only those with corona-specific symptoms? With many health experts warning that India is testing very less, the number of cases steadily rising and the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi taking up 'testing' as his key complaint against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it now appears that the national government is ready to face the truth.

The Centre may start by screening all patients who come to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. This will be irrespective of the disease they have come for. The plan is to eventually extend this to all hospitals in the country, though we do not yet have a timeline for this. It is an imperative for us to test whether people come with one set of complaints or the other, whether they seek it or not, whether the community seeks it or not and whether people agree to random tests or not. By all means, test, test and test. That is the only 'Brahmastra' against corona.

One might have travelled or not to other States, other countries, it is better to test them. Do we have full personal protective equipment gears for the hospital staff? We would be needing private hospitals cooperation for the same. What is the option for the medical personnel if they do not have the equipment to protect themselves fully? Well, it is the other way round. The professionals should go to the people - door to door - with police protection. Thousands of teams should hit the roads to test people and keep sending them to hospitals. This is the right time to do so.

Any delay would mean multitude of people to be hospitalised. It means shortage of beds, equipment to deal with the diseases and medicines supply shortage. Now is the time. The last revision in India's testing strategy was done on April 9, when the parameters for 'hotspots' were changed to cover all patients with influenza-like illnesses (fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose). It has been reported that field personnel have already been given leeway to conduct tests as per their "judgment", especially in the hotspots. That has contributed to a large extent to the increase in testing.

The guidelines say that in people suffering from such symptoms in hotspots, the lengthier RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test should be done within seven days of infection and the rapid serological test after seven days have passed. India's top medical body, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), has granted approvals for two types of testing kits. One is the RT-PCR test, which is conducted in a lab and requires nasal and throat swabs. This is a confirmatory molecular test and takes six to eight hours for results to be processed. The second type of test is a rapid antibody test, which is essentially a blood test for detecting Covid-19 antibodies. The results can be obtained in 30 minutes. Whatever it is, do it and do it fast.

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