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ICMR: 500 random tests for Covid-19 come up negative

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 17, 2020

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has confirmed that coronavirus test done on 500 random samples of patients with symptoms of severe pneumonia and chest infection have turned out to be negative.

These tests were conducted as a part of the ongoing surveillance to check if Covid-19 has spread in the community. “These samples are over and above the 11,500 throat swabs of symptomatic patients with travel history or those in contact with them,” said Nivedita Gupta, Scientist, Epidemiology, ICMR.

The ICMR has decided to test 20 such samples every week from its network of 51 labs. “While we may think this is a small number, the actual cases of severe chest infections and pneumonia from intensive care unit set-ups that we are collecting is less. At times we don’t even get the target of 20 samples of severe cases per lab every week,” said R Gangakhedkar, Head, Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases, ICMR.

Manoj Murhekar, Director, National Institute of Epidemiology in Chennai, explained that the random sampling will be expanded to 50 more sites and thus will cover 101 sites across India. “The ICMR was exploring the feasibility of this for expanding its testing footprint,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government has expanded its guidelines for testing to include any sysemtematic healthcare work.

Sources said that for preparedness to mass test in case such a situation arises, the ICMR is procuring two high volume machines from Roche Diagnostics that can test up to 1,400 samples per machine with a quick turn around rate. “The machines are being installed at the Regional Medical Research Centre in Bhubaneswar and the National Institute of Biologicals in Ghaziabad. Roche Diagnostics has received the testing licence for this from the Indian drug regulators. The USFDA gave the company a similar emergency approval last week,” said the source.

The ICMR is also expanding its lab capacity from 72 to 121 by the end of this week. “We are involving the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, Department of Biotechnology, and the Defence Research, Development Organisation to test but they have no experience in testing for viruses so we will have to train them,” said Gupta.

The number of Covid-19 positive cases in the country has reached 137, of which 113 patients are Indian while 24 are foreign nationals. Also, this includes three deaths, all of whom are patients of over 60 years.

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Published on March 17, 2020
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