The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday said India is at second of the four stages of coronavirus transmission and private laboratories likely to be engaged to provide COVID-19 tests free of cost.

Dr Balram Bhargava, the Director-General of ICMR, said there are 72 functional laboratories conducting tests for coronavirus 49 more will be active by the month-end.

Private NABL-accredited labs will soon be operationalised across the country, Dr Bhargava said.

“Currently the laboratory expansion of ICMR is engaged, we are expanding our number of laboratories and as we speak, today we have 72 functional laboratories in ICMR system. We have also engaged non-ICMR, Ministry of Health, government laboratories include CSIR, DRDO, DBT, govt medical colleges, we have 49 of those labs which will start testing by the end of this week,” he said.

Talks are on with 51 National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) accredited private laboratories, he said, adding that ICMR was approached by several private players who want to contribute.

“ICMR is also engaging with high-quality private laboratories, that include NABL accredited laboratories, to understand the modalities to increase access to the tests while ensuring appropriate safeguards,” he added.

The ICMR chief also appealed to all private laboratories to offer COVID-19 diagnosis free of cost.

“We’re also operationalising through two high-throughput systems which are the rapid testing laboratories. They will be operationalised in two locations and they can test up to 1400 samples per day in those labs. We’re operationalising them by the end of this week,” he said.

He added that an order for 1 million probe kits while reagents and primers are unlimited.

We have also requested the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide us 1 million probes, he said.

On the issue of the protocol being followed for testing, Bhargava said all asymptomatic patients who have taken international flights in the past 14 days should get tested if they develop symptoms.

Those who have been in close contact with laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases must be tested if they develop any symptom, Bhargava said.

All healthcare workers managing the respiratory condition of patients should be tested too if symptomatic, he added.

The ICMR chief said they are hoping that India does not have cases of community transmission.

“There are 4 stages. The third stage is community transmission which we hope we shouldn’t have. It would depend on how strongly we close our international borders, in terms of which the government has taken very proactive steps. But can’t say that community transmission won’t happen,” he said.

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