With variants rising, Centre all set to tweak COVID testing strategy

The decision will be taken in line with the recent guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation which advises to prioritize testing of symptomatic individuals irrespective of vaccination and history of illness

Covid testing
The sources said the department has instructed hospitals, polyclinics and dispensaries in the city to increase Covid testing. I Representational image

Amid the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, India is all set to change its testing strategy, and prioritize symptomatic individuals irrespective of vaccination status or history of illness, reported Mint.

Even though the country has administered over 320 million jabs so far, mutant variants of COVID-19 like alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and delta plus have been detected in several patients. With the government planning to open international travel, medical experts also fear the entry of foreign variants like Lambda to the country.

The decision will be taken in line with the recent guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on testing strategies and diagnostic capacities, the report said.

The WHO guidelines say that if resources are limited and it is not possible to test all symptomatic people, the government should prioritize testing people who are at the risk of developing severe disease, health workers, in-patients in hospitals, and the first symptomatic individual or subset of symptomatic individuals in a closed setting in the event of a suspected outbreak of the third wave.

The guidelines also advise to prioritize symptomatic individuals over asymptomatic individuals. However, they say that testing of asymptomatic individuals “can be informative to follow up contacts of confirmed cases or healthcare and long-term care facility workers who are frequently exposed to the virus.”

“India has been changing its testing strategy from time to time depending upon the epidemiological situation of the virus. The WHO recommendations are being evaluated by the COVID-19 testing task force. If suitable for the country, the guidelines would be adopted. India has been focusing on testing symptomatic persons since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do so,” Dr Rajni Kant, director, Regional Medical Research Centre, and head, research management, policy, planning and coordination of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) told Mint.

“We are increasing our laboratory infrastructure and there is no shortage in testing. Testing is critical for controlling the pandemic, and we aim to increase testing to more than 4.5 million a day,” he added.

WHO is also against allowing self COVID tests as well as serological surveys to test the prevalence of the disease in a population as it would divert testing resources.

“Widespread testing of asymptomatic populations, including through self-testing, is not recommended based on lack of evidence on impact and cost-effectiveness of such approaches and the concern that this approach risks diverting resources from higher priority testing indications,” the who guidelines said.

“Member states that consider policies to test outside these recommendations should do so only if timely and reliable testing of suspected cases is maintained as the priority strategy, there are available human and financial resources for testing, reporting, isolation, contact tracing, and follow up of all tested positive individuals.”

The health agency, however, has green-lighted the use of mutation-detecting NAAT (or neuclic acid amplification test) to screen COVID variants, even though it advises to confirm the presence of the variant through sequencing.

Dr Samiran Panda, head of the division of epidemiology and communicable diseases of ICMR told Mint that states have been instructed to keep an eye on COVID variants and follow the WHO guidelines.