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To prevent delay in the testing of suspected COVID-19 patients and as a measure to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the country, the Centre on Wednesday urged all states and union territories to enable all qualified medical practitioners, including private practitioners, to prescribe COVID test to any individual fulfilling the criteria for testing as per ICMR guidelines.

In a letter jointly written by Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan and DG (ICMR) Balram Bhargava, the states and union territories have been strongly advised to take all possible steps to ensure full capacity utilization of all COVID-19 testing laboratories.

The letter mentioned that the capacity utilization of the testing labs, mostly the private ones, in some states and union territories is ‘grossly sub-optimal.’

“ICMR has strongly recommended that laboratories should be free to test any individual in accordance to the ICMR Guidelines and State authorities must not restrict an individual from getting tested, as early testing will help in containing the virus and saving lives,” the letter stated.

Sudan and Bhargava reiterated that ‘test-track-treat’ is the key strategy for early detection and containment of the pandemic.

They also asked the states and union territories to ramp up Rapid Antigen Tests for early detection of COVID-19.

“While RT-PCR is the gold standard for diagnosis of COVlD-19, ICMR has recently approved the use of a point-of-care Rapid Antigen Test for early detection of COVID-19. The test is quick, simple, safe and can be used as a point-of-care test in containment zones as well as hospitals, as per criteria specified by ICMR for testing,” they stated in the letter.

In order to facilitate testing, states/UTs have also been advised to make efforts in ‘campaign mode’ by setting up camps/ using mobiles vans in high incidence areas to collect samples of all symptomatic individuals as well as their contacts, and get those samples tested by using rapid antigen tests.

The positive individuals should be treated according to the treatment protocol and the negative ones should be tested for RT-PCR, the letter stated.

Also, the rate for RT-PCR test by private labs should be finalized by the states/UTs, it added.

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