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Covid-19: India Inc going for antibody testing

By Amritha Pillay
August 11, 2020 13:45 IST
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Some of India’s biggest employers are testing for antibodies to either comply with regulatory norms or gauge the effectiveness of precautionary measures.

India Inc’s bigwigs as well as small players are warming up to the idea of testing all its employees for antibodies.

This could, in turn, contribute to the country’s Covid-19 immunity database.

 

Reliance Industries (RIL), India’s largest private sector company, is using a mix of all the Covid-19 related tests available, including antibody tests.

RIL executives said the nature of the tests and who should undergo it is determined using the company’s AI-based symptoms tracker, which every employee has to update for himself and her family member.

The RIL symptoms tracker has a series of questions based on ICMR guidelines, which help doctors to track if any employee or family member has contracted Covid-19.

The inputs, RIL executives said, are followed up with medical advice on whether tests are needed.

The tracker collects data of around 800,000 people - employees and their family members - everyday.

RIL looks to use this data and test results to ensure safe return of employees to its office at a later stage.

Even JSW, Tata Projects, and Thermax have opted for antibody testing for their staff.

Even a small investment advisory firm in Mumbai is planning to conduct antibody tests for its team members.

For the advisory firm, the test added human resource benefit offered to employees.

Some of India’s biggest employers, however, are testing for antibodies to either comply with regulatory norms or gauge the effectiveness of precautionary measures.

Tata Projects, for instance, plans to test each of its 20,000 workers for antibodies.

Of the lot, it has tested 5,000-6,000 employees at various facilities so far.

The company has been conducting a mix of antibody as well as RT-PCR tests.

It will, the firm hopes, help isolate cases and improve precautionary measures.

However, executive are not sure of the veracity of such antibody tests.

“It is temporary information,” said M S Unnikrishnan, MD and CEO of Thermax, a power equipment manufacturer.

He said the firm has conducted these tests on random samples at different factory locations.

Thermax has limited testing to facilities based in locations with reported infections.

Unnikrishnan looks to use the results to strengthen existing precautionary measures.

For those operating in cities such as Mumbai, antibody testing was mandatory.

Sajjan Jindal-promoted JSW Group conducted these tests for employees working in their Mumbai corporate office.

Testing was conducted to comply with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) regulatory orders.

In reply to a query on antibody testing, R A Rajeev, commissioner for Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, said: “I understand all concerned contractors are testing.”

Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) is among the contractors building Mumbai’s coastal road and a Mumbai Metro network package.

All of HCC’s 250 labourers at the coastal road project site have been tested.

HCC also plans to undertake similar tests for new labourers joining its Mumbai metro project work site.

Based on preliminary data from these firms, the anti-body build-up in numbers is relatively small.

Out of a 100 being tested for antibodies, positive results are in single digits, said two company executives.

For HCC, none of the 250 employees at the project site tested positive.

Firms have not disclosed the costs incurred during the process.

Most of these do not have a all-India tie-up, but are approaching the designated location-based facilities.

A regular Covid antibody test, according to diagnostics centre websites, starts at Rs 600.

Photograph: PTI Photo

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Amritha Pillay in Mumbai
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