Covid-19 second wave: ICMR pushes for ramping up Rapid Antigen Testing

No testing would be required for Covid-19 recovered individuals at the time of hospital discharge.

In a bid to reduce the load on laboratories and enable faster detection of Covid-19 positive cases in the second wave, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT). ICMR has also approved 36 RATs to ramp up testing. ICMR on Wednesday also issued fresh advisory for Covid-19 testing that does away with RT-PCR tests for inter-state domestic travel.

There will be also be no testing for those who have recovered from Covid, and RT-PCR testing will not be repeated after an individual tests positive using either RAT or RT-PCR.

Laboratories across the country are facing challenges to meet the expected testing target due to extraordinary case load and staff getting infected with Covid-19. So, to optimize the RT-PCR testing and simultaneously increase the access and availability of testing, the ICMR said it was permitting RAT tests.

V K Paul, member, health, Niti Aayog, said while RT-PCR was the gold standard for Covid testing, the situation in the country demanded faster detection and treatment of cases so RAT will complement RT-PCR in the country. RAT has its own place and was useful in surveillance and containment where high transmission and an intensity of infection was happening which is what the situation in the country is, Paul said.

As per ICMR advisory, there will be no need for RT-PCR test in healthy individuals for inter-state domestic travel. RT-PCR test will not be repeated in any individual who has tested positive once either by RAT or RT-PCR. No testing would be required for Covid-19 recovered individuals at the time of hospital discharge.

States have to ensure full utilisation of the available RT-PCR testing capacity in both in public and private laboratories. States have been asked to augment their RT-PCR testing capacity by using mobile testing laboratories that are now available on GeM portal. To improve access and availability of testing, RATs were recommended in India for Covid-19 testing in June 2020. However, the use of these tests was limited to containment zones and health care settings as RAT had a short turn turnaround time of 15-30 minutes and thus offers a huge advantage of quick detection of cases, isolate and treatment, ICMR said.

RAT would be allowed at all government and private healthcare facilities. Dedicated RAT booths would be allowed in cities, towns and villages to offer testing to people. Testing booths is to be set up at multiple locations, including healthcare facilities, offices, schools, colleges, community centres and other available vacant spaces. These booths have to be operational on a 24×7 basis to improve access and availability of testing.

It has also suggested creation of drive-through RAT testing facilities at convenient locations.

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