New Delhi: Amid the new surge in Covid cases, the Centre has asked all states and union territories to set up round-the-clock Rapid Antigen Test booths at different locations, engage medical and paramedical staff, and encourage the use of home test kits for symptomatic individuals.
In a letter to all chief secretaries, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava said any individual having fever with/without cough, headache, sore throat, breathlessness, body ache, the recent loss of taste or smell, fatigue, and diarrhoea should be considered as a suspect case of COVID-19 unless proven otherwise.
"All such individuals must be tested. While awaiting the test results, they should be advised to immediately isolate themselves and follow the home isolation guidelines of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare," the letter said.
It said that as of now, India has a network of 3,117 molecular testing laboratories, which includes 2014 RT-PCR, 941 TrueNat, 132 CBNAAT and 30 other testing platforms.
The estimated national daily molecular testing capacity is more than 20 lakh per day, the letter to the chief secretaries said. "You are advised to upscale testing for COVID-19 in your State/UT by fully utilizing the existing molecular testing capacity."
"In addition, you may also expedite procurement of necessary testing equipment and establish BSL-2 laboratory infrastructure from the funds sanctioned to your State/UT by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, under the Emergency COVID-19 Response Plan (ECRP)," it said
The letter said that RTPCR-based testing leads to delays in confirming diagnosis due to its turnaround time of about 5-8 hours. "Therefore, you are encouraged to increase testing by widespread use of rapid antigen tests (RATS) in such specific situations where RTPCR testing poses challenges," the two senior health officials said in the letter.
In such specific situations, it is recommended to increase rapid antigen testing for COVID-19 through multiple RAT booths in identified geographies and operationalised on a 24x7 basis to offer widespread testing and easier access to all citizens, they said.
"RATS may be allowed at government and private health care facilities including all hospitals, dispensaries, nursing homes, clinics, district hospitals, primary health centers etc," they said.
In addition to healthcare facilities, states and union territories are also encouraged to engage appropriate medical and paramedical staff and to set up and operationalise RAT booths at convenient locations, they said.
The use of self-tests/home tests may be encouraged for symptomatic individuals, they said, adding seven such home testing kits have been approved so far and two of them are also available on GeM.
Most of the test kits/products approved by Indian Council of Medical Research are now available on the GeM portal and can be easily procured from GeM, the letter said.
"Appropriate public-private partnership models may also be explored to establish innovative and convenient testing centers to augment testing in an expeditious way. RATS must be conducted in accordance with RAT algorithm defined by ICMR," the letter said.
"You may appropriately refine the State procurement procedures for emergency procurement from market to expedite the process," they said.