Coronavirus: India has maintained that there is no immediate need to escalate testing in the country.
India is at stage 2 of the coronavirus outbreak involving local transmission and the government is testing 1,000 random samples to check whether the spread has progressed to community transmission – which would mean an exponential rise in cases.
Community transmission is the stage when patients not exposed to any infected person or with no history of travel to affected countries tests positive. The patients are unable to track the source of the infection.
In response to the World Health Organisation's "test, test, test" advice to nations, India has maintained that there is no immediate need to escalate testing in the country.
However, WHO's Regional Director, in an interview to NDTV, has said random sampling is not enough to detect community transmission.
"Just random sampling is not enough to check community transmission. A comprehensive strategy is needed. Increase testing. Severe cases of respiratory issues should also be tested,"" said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of WHO.
"In our last letter to India we wrote that they should add private labs. The 51 accredited private labs that they are talking of right now…it will be better if even more are added," said Dr Singh.
The advice is "more and more testing", said the WHO representative.
Nearly 1,000 samples from 52 testing labs (20 from each lab) have been picked up from across India to check on community transmission. These are samples from people who have neither any travel history nor have they been in contact with anybody who has. But these people have symptoms related to respiratory issues, pneumonia and influenza like symptoms and are admitted in government hospitals.
ICMR said the first 500 samples had tested negative and results of the rest 500 samples will be out on Wednesday.
The government plans to pick up 20 samples from each lab across the country on a weekly basis to keep checking for community transmission and the government will keep changing its nationwide testing strategies based on the results, said ICMR chief Balram Bhargava.
Currently, there are 72 functioning labs across the country in the ICMR system and 49 more government labs will be active by end of this week. Officials say by the end of this week, India will have 121 labs for virus testing. While 119 of these labs will be capable of 180 tests per day, two rapid testing labs will be capable of carrying out 1,400 tests per day.
But experts worry it is far from enough.
Mass testing in other countries has led to a steep jump in the number of coronavirus cases.