Diagnostic labs have received enquiries from large corporates, private companies, hospitals, banks, housing societies and even builders at construction sites to test employees for past exposure to novel coronavirus.
Mumbai has seen the maximum enquiries and tests performed in the last one week, after the Maharashtra government became the first state to give its nod for the tests. Mumbai’s civic body has already asked private firms to start testing to get employees back to work as the state moves in to Unlock 2.0.
From July 1, as Unlock 2.0, further relaxations across the country have also been announced for work, travel and restarting of the economy.
As a result, smaller industrial towns like Jamshedpur, Bellary, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Indore are also seeing interest from corporates and private firms who want to conduct company-level surveys as they open up.
Charging anywhere between Rs 600 and Rs 1,750 for a single test, multiple private labs and hospitals have started offering antibody testing.
Thyrocare, charging Rs 600-Rs 900, has already performed 5,000 antibody tests across the country, largest been in Mumbai and 90 percent for private firms. Dr A Velumani, CMD of Thyrocare Technologies, says almost 8-10 percent of those tested so far were positive and had antibodies against Sars-Cov2, meaning they were exposed to the virus in the past. They may or may not have shown symptoms of COVID-19.
Initially, the enquiries were from healthcare workers and past COVID-19 patients who wanted to check if they still have antibodies against the virus of not.
The government has approved and advised using test kits that use the ELISA or CLIA based platforms for conducting antibody tests. Kits manufactured by Roche Diagnostics, Abbott and domestic firm Zydus Cadila are among those that have been validated by ICMR-NIV.
“We are using the e-CLIA kits by Roche Diagnostic and accuracy is above 98 percent. For now, we have performed 500 tests in 2 days but the enquiries across our labs are very strong,” said Sanjay Arora of Suburban Diagnostic.
ICMR had advised the test for practically everyone who wants to get tested, by listing high-risk populations, containment zones, immuno-compromised persons. ICMR advisory said antibody surveys can be useful in hospitals, shops, banks, post offices, air travel staff, etc.
The need, however, is to ensure antibody surveys are not missold as COVID-19 diagnosis. A few hospitals and local laboratory brochures are spreading misinformation. “We must check for patient’s history and the test results must be interpreted and explained based on travel, contact or symptoms history. This will ensure people don’t misinterpret test results,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, President, Metropolis Healthcare.
Metropolis says it will be expanding antibody testing through 45 labs across the country as demand is building up even in smaller cities. “We have a current capacity of doing 50,000 tests/day and will be expanding to 75,000 by month-end.”
World Health Organisation does not recommend using antibody tests as an “immunity certificates” in the general population as a way to get them back to work, saying this can create a “false sense of security”.
The antibody tests available are still not 100 percent accurate and the WHO has warned that there is no evidence that people who have recovered from the virus and have antibodies are immune to a second infection.India has nearly 6 lakh confirmed COVID-19 cases.