Conduct targeted Covid-19 testing at large gatherings: Centre

The Centre has asked states to conduct saturation testing to detect the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in places where people are likely to gather in large numbers, such as offices, religious places and markets, among others, a senior Union health ministry official familiar with the development said on Monday.

Saturation testing, where everyone is tested for Covid-19, will augment random testing to control the spread of the viral infection. The advisory is not mandatory and states will decide where to test, who to test, the frequency of testing, and how to fund testing, the official said.

“It is an advisory for states from our experts as one of the measures to cut the disease transmission cycle. Once the places are identified, everyone there should be tested for the disease. After completing testing, those who have tested negative for the virus should be followed up for a period of at least five to 10 days as that is the incubation period seen so far. Confirmatory tests should be done on those people who show symptoms,” said the health ministry official.

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The tests can be repeated periodically depending on the requirement and positivity rate.

“Many a time, it is seen that people at workplaces either bring the infection from within the community or take the disease back to the community where they live; and it can be a cause of a super-spreader event where a large number of people run the risk of getting infected. This way, infection can be detected early and close contacts traced on time to control the spread,” Dr VK Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog, said on the scope of targeted testing, during a Covid-19 briefing last week.

Though experts say that it would be ideal to cover as many places as possible, due to logistical concerns, priority can be given to high-risk areas.

“Since the virus does not discriminate, saturation testing should be as widespread as possible. But the ultimate call will be on states on whether to test across the board or in areas from where clustering is reported or in high-risk areas, and look for requisite criteria for selection of target groups or areas for testing. The role of the Centre is to advise on what best can be done to control the situation,” said Dr SK Singh, director, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

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For mass testing, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the body that has been spearheading Covid-19 testing initiative in the country, recommends rapid antigen tests (RAT).

“At places where large scale testing is required with quick results, RAT is recommended. However, there are certain conditions that need to be met like getting a confirmatory test done though RT-PCR in cases of symptomatic RAT negatives, etc,” said an ICMR official.

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