The Centre is likely to expand its testing strategy for Covid-19 to allow use of rapid antibody tests in symptomatic cases in ‘hotspot’ areas though these results will need to be confirmed by an RT-PCR test using throat or nasal swab to detect the presence of genetic material of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, state health minister Rajesh Tope said that Maharashtra had sought permission from the Centre to carry out both the diagnostic test and screening test simultaneously to get a correct picture of the virus’s spread in the state. He added that the five-minute blood tests would cost a few hundred rupees.

The rapid tests will be conducted on symptomatic cases and even those testing negative in antibody tests will be home quarantined, official sources said. The effort is to contain hotspots that can become centres of transmission of the disease, a task that has become even more urgent in the wake of migrant workers reaching homes in certain areas that have been tagged as high-risk zones.

Though a final decision on this is expected by Friday morning, the ICMR issued an interim advisory on Thursday on the use of the rapid antibody test, also known as serology test. “The empowered group has taken a decision that testing needs to be expanded. ICMR is working out the modalities and a final decision will be taken by tomorrow,” an official said. He added that even those with ‘milder symtoms’ in identified hotspots will be tested under the new protocol.

ICMR chief epidemiologist Dr RR Gangakhedkar said at the regular government briefing on Thursday that the testing protocol is being reviewed in the light of some new tests and a decision will be taken by Friday morning.

The health ministry’s surveillance department along with state governments have identified 61hotspots with large number of cases and 10 high-risk zones with fewer cases but higher density of people. Sources said the rollout of the new testing norms will depend on availability of testing kits which are expected to be available shortly. “ICMR has ordered around a million serology testing kits from China and South Korea. They will arrive any time but whether that is going to be enough is a question. The final decision depends on who do we want to test given the limited availability of testing kits,” another senior official said.

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