Are enough kits for coronavirus sampling available with NIV?

Global tally of cases crosses 6,000-mark, 132 dead

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 29 January 2020

Specimens of suspected novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) patients will be tested at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s laboratories at Alappuzha, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai, besides the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has said.

All four labs will work under the guidance of the NIV. However, the number of kits available for diagnosis at the labs and their sufficiency is not clear at the moment. 

The test for the coronavirus uses a nucleic acid amplification-based assay called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and a more sensitive form called real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), Priya Abraham said in an emailed reply to Down To Earth (DTE).

“With reference to your concern, we would like to inform you that adequate contingency for testing is available with ICMR-NIV and Viral Research & Diagnostic Laboratories,” Abraham said in reply to a question on how many kits were available with the NIV and network labs.

A second follow-up mail asking how many kits were available is yet to be answered. This story would be updated once the reply is received.

She added that the testing protocols being followed at the NIV were according to World Health Organization-recommended guidelines for the novel coronavirus.

“Reducing test time depends on the protocol used and an average of 12-24 hours is the window as sometime multiple tests may have to be run,” Abraham said about the time it would take for a test result to come out.

DTE also reached out to officials of those states or hospitals that have sent samples to the NIV. Officials from Bihar’s health department and Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, said on the condition of anonymity, that they had been told to wait for three days for results.

Only Maharashtra state epidemiologist Pradip Awate said he would get the results in a day’s time. The department had sent 10 samples and the results of four were awaited. 

Twenty-two samples had been tested till January 28, and the daily inflow was about four-six, according to Abraham.

She added that operational scaling up would be done by integrating and operationalising other network laboratories within the ICMR network and deploying adequate manpower as well capacity activation for uninterrupted operations, in reply to a query on how the NIV will cope if the volume went up. 

She also warned people not to get lured by private labs if the outbreak scare escalated. “The high biosafety and biosecurity aspect of this virus has limited the testing to apex national laboratories like ICMR-NIV, where compliant laboratory infrastructure exists,” Abraham said. 

Global scenario

On January 29, India extended the screening of Chinese travellers at 21 airports. The Indian government also upgraded its travel advisory that urged avoiding all non-essential travel to any part of China.

Earlier, it had advised about avoiding travel to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and avoiding contact with infected people during travel to other cities in the country.

Incidentally, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) upped the alert level to the highest on January 28. It recommend that travellers must avoid all nonessential travel to all parts of China (Level 3 Travel Health Notice).

“The Chinese health officials have reported thousands of 2019-nCoV cases in China, as well as severe illness including deaths. Sustained person-to-person community spread with this virus is reportedly occurring in China,” the CDC statement said. The US has so far confirmed five positive cases. 

Meanwhile, operations to evacuate Indian nationals, announced three days back, are yet to take off.  

“We have already recommended it. Now the ball is in the court of the Ministry of External Affairs. Their officials will have to take it forward,” a senior health ministry official told DTE. However, the last update by MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar has said the ministry is in touch with Chinese authorities.

The US, on the other hand, has already evacuated 201 of its citizens. A plane carrying them is expected to land in a few hours in southern California. 

“These individuals will be screened before they take off; monitored during the duration of the flight by medical personnel on board; screened again on landing to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska,” a CDC statement said.

“They will be monitored on the last leg of the flight by medical personnel on board; evaluated upon arrival at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California; and then monitored for symptoms post-arrival,” it added. 

The total number of cases worldwide have crossed the 6,000 mark. On January 29, the total number of confirmed cases stood at 6,078 while the number of deaths were 132. The break-up of the cases is as follows:

  • Mainland China—5970 
  • Thailand—14 
  • Hong Kong—8 
  • Taiwan—8
  • Japan—7 
  • Macau—7 
  • Malaysia—7 
  • Singapore—7 
  • Australia—5 
  • US—5 
  • France—4 
  • Germany—4
  • South Korea—4 
  • Canada—2 
  • Vietnam—2 
  • Nepal—1 
  • Sri Lanka—1

The Indian Ministry of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) issued a press release on January 29, claiming that certain Unani medicines can be useful in symptomatic treatment of the coronavirus infection.

It even suggested a few Ayurvedic medicines to prevent the infection of the virus the complete epidemiological information about which is not available yet. 

Also on January 29, a Unicef shipment consisting of respiratory masks and protective suits for health workers and weighing six metric tonnes landed in Shanghai.

“This coronavirus is spreading at a breakneck speed and it is important to put all the necessary resources into halting it,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We may not know enough about the virus’s impact on children or how many may be affected — but we do know that close monitoring and prevention are key. Time is not on our side.” 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

India Environment Portal Resources :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.