By Karishma Mehrotra
The first batch of results for tests done by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to check for community transmission of coronavirus in March are negative.
The ICMR had picked 1,020 random samples of people with severe acute respiratory illness pneumonia and influenza-like symptoms for testing for Covid-19. The results of 500 samples are negative, providing the first small sign that community-level transmission of the coronavirus may not be taking place in India still. The results of the remaining 520 samples will be available by Wednesday.
Earlier, another batch of tests, done uptil February 29, had also come out negative. The 1,020 samples tested in March were collected between the 1st and 15th, and sent to 51 labs. If a positive case turns up in these random samples, the ICMR said, it would indicate community transmission and they would enforce localised quarantine and testing measures in the areas from where samples were collected. "It is reassuring that at the moment there is no evidence to indicate community outbreak," ICMR Director General (DG) Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday at a press conference, while warning, "It is too early to say that we have contained the virus and that community transmission has not happened. How strongly we close our borders should help."
This community transmission test is running separately from the testing and tracking of symptomatic travellers as well as those who have come in contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases. The ICMR also said that they have tested a total of 11,500 samples so far, including random. The government currently has 1.5 lakh testing kits, and has ordered 1 million more.
On the WHO's concern that countries may not be doing enough testing to determine community outbreak, ICMR Senior scientist R R Gangakhedkar said, "Since we are in Stage 2 (local transmission) and the WHO does not give country-specific guidelines, the DG has told the country office that this is not a statement to be given for a country like India, because it creates more fear, more paranoia, and more hype." Gangakhedkar also said that country strategies will depend on the stage each one is in.