Covid-19 impact: Private labs brace for test deluge

MUMBAI: Private labs in India are bracing for a rush of requests to test for Covid-19 infections, even as they grapple with limited testing kits, staff training and frantic calls.

Earlier this week, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s nodal health research body, said it had approved 29 private labs that could start testing to detect the virus. On Thursday, private labs started testing, known as RT PCR probes, which are conducted by collecting nasal swabs of individuals.

In Mumbai, the city with the highest number of Covid-19 positive patients, nine private labs have been permitted to offer the tests. “Since resources are limited, including protection equipment for sample collectors and reagents, we have decided to prioritise testing to those who are most at need. This could mean that a health worker who needs to get back to tending to patients will get priority over an asymptomatic individual who has had travel history,” said Nilesh Shah, Chief of Science and Innovation at Metropolis Health Ltd, a BSE listed chain lab. At Metropolis, Shah expects to conduct an average 300-400 tests per day. In the last two days, it has done 1,000 tests. Labs are, however, facing a shortage of test kits.

So far, test kits of only two companies have received the go ahead from the government – Pune-based Mylab and Germany’s Altona Diagnostics. On Friday, two more — South Korea’s Seegene and SD Biosenser — received approvals.

The supply of reagents is also an issue as global demand remains high, with most countries in Europe and the United States ready to pay higher, said A Velumani, managing director of Thyrocare, which also has the licence to do the tests in India. “This is… going to take time to settle,” he said.

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