The Government of India has notified guidelines laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research for COVID-19 testing in private labs, which has capped the cost of the test at Rs. 4,500. The cost may include Rs 1,500 as a screening test for suspect cases and an additional Rs 3,000 for contamination test. However, ICMR has urged private labs to provide free or subsidized testing "in this hour of national public health emergency".
Saturday's decision to rope in private labs comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in India rise to at least 335, even as overall per day testing numbers remain low compared to other nations like South Korea or Europe. A statement from ICMR said a total of 16,911 samples from 16,021 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 as on March 21. According to the medical body, it costs the government Rs 6,500 to test each suspected COVID-19 sample, which is done free.
The guidelines said the samples of suspected COVID-19 patients would have to be collected preferably at their homes to avoid contact with others. They added the commercial kits for real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnosis of COVID-19 should be the ones approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or those with European CE certification or both.
While collecting the respiratory samples from a suspect patient, the private labs would also have to follow appropriate biosafety and biosecurity precautions. The positive samples of COVID-19 will have to be sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune. Upon confirming positive cases, the labs also need to immediately contact authorities at the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme to trigger contact tracing.
The coronavirus pandemic has so far infected over three lakh cases worldwide, with the number of deaths nearly 13,000. The hardest-hit region, after China, is Italy, Iran and South Korea, where the number of cases is rising by the hour. India has so far reported 335 confirmed cases and four deaths.
(AP Photo for representation)