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Centre asks states to set up exclusive facilities for treating COVID-19 patients

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Amid rising cases of coronavirus in India, the central government on Sunday asked all states to ready health facilities earmarked exclusively for treating COVID-19 patients to ramp up their capacity to manage such cases in the country.

Addressing reporters on the preparedness of the government for prevention and containment of the disease, Health Ministry officials said the country has the capacity for conducting around 60,000-70,000 COVID-19 tests per week, with private labs also roped in to conduct such tests, provided they fulfill the defined criterion.

"States have pledged that they will earmark hospitals exclusively to treat COVID-19 patients," ICMR director Balram Bhargava said.

"For example, in Delhi, AIIMS' division of National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Jhajjar (Haryana) -- which has around 800 beds -- would be used only to treat COVID-19 patients, he said.

On the approval given to private labs to conduct coronavirus tests, Bhargava said there have been 60 registrations so far and more applications are under consideration.

Four private labs in Maharashtra and one each in Gujarat and Karnataka have so far been given approval to conduct COVID-19 tests, says the website of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Besides 111 government labs are already functional in this regard, he said, adding the most important thing to remember is that indiscriminate testing is not to be done and the thrust should be on isolation".

On allegations that the country was not conducting enough tests, Bhargava said India has so far conducted around 15,000 to 17,000 tests for coronavirus. He added that France has conducted 10,000 tests per week, UK 16,000, US 26,000, Germany 42,000, Italy 52,000 and South Korea 80,000 tests.

The ICMR director asserted that a lockdown is the most essential thing for breaking the chain of transmission.

We are doing an evaluation on the basis of the COVID-19 cases and deaths reported so far in the country. Such an evaluation can help us to gauge how many more such cases and deaths can increase by Tuesday, he said.

Responding to a question over the delay in allowing private labs to conduct tests for COVID-19, Bhargava said pricing was never an issue and more so government labs had the capacity to conduct such tests.

"We wanted to ensure the safety of lab personnel and their handlers because this is a biosecurity hazardous virus. We wanted to ensure they (private labs) had the full capacity for that. Secondly, these labs were roped in on the basis of the requirement in view of so many passengers returning from other countries," he said.

The central government had on Saturday recommended that the maximum charge for each COVID-19 test by private laboratories should not exceed Rs 4,500.

All private laboratories which have NABL accreditation for real-time PCR SA for RNA virus will be allowed to conduct COVID-19 tests, according to the guidelines issued by the ICMR for COVID-19 testing in private laboratories, which were notified by the Union Health Ministry on Saturday night.

The National Task Force recommends that the maximum cost for testing should not exceed Rs 4,500. This may include Rs 1,500 as a screening test for suspect cases and an additional Rs 3,000 for confirmation test, the guidelines said.

Meanwhile, Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health talked about the availability of ventilators in the country in the wake of the current health emergency.

"Depending on the number of cases, isolation beds and ventilators will be ramped up. An order to procure 1,200 new ventilators has been placed. We are ready to face any emerging situation," he said.

Stating that breaking the chain of transmission was the biggest challenge in front of them, Bhargava highlighted that it is very important that all those who have come from abroad be isolated and quarantined.

Elaborating further on the nature of the virus, he said 80 per cent of the patients may get light cold and fever and recover on their own without getting to know whether they were infected by coronavirus.

He said 20 per cent may have symptoms like cough, cold and fever, out of which only 5 per cent require hospitalisation.

Those hospitalised are given supportive treatment. In some cases, new drugs are being tried, the official added.

India reported three more coronavirus deaths on Sunday, including the first casualties from Bihar and Gujarat, taking the toll to seven and the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 341.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, March 22 2020. 20:46 IST
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