As the number of coronavirus cases in India rose to 139 on Tuesday, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Tuesday issued guidelines for private laboratories to conduct tests and appealed them not to charge anything for it.

According to the guidelines, the private labs would work under the domain of ICMR.

Earlier in the day, 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.

“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.

“We were approached by a lot of private players who would want to work for the country. ICMR would share standard laboratory procedures with them and start soon. The laboratory test should be only offered when prescribed by a qualified physician as per ICMR guidance for testing. Since the guidance evolves periodically, the latest revised version should be followed. ICMR will share the statement of purpose (SOPs) for laboratory testing and provide positive controls for establishing the test as soon as the concerned private laboratory has procured the primers, probes and reagents as per SOPs,” he added.

Another scientist at ICMR, Dr Nivedita Gupta, said that the testing laboratories should ensure real-time reporting to the government.

“Appropriate bio-safety and bio-security precautions should be ensured while collecting samples from a suspect patient. Alternatively, a disease-specific separate collection site may be created. We are working on modalities with them. All the private testing laboratories ensure immediate/real-time reporting to the state officials of IDSP (Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme) of Government of India and ICMR headquarters for timely initiation of contact tracing and research activities. ICMR strongly appeals those private laboratories should offer COVID-19 diagnosis at no cost,” she said.

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