As India recorded its biggest single-day jump of 12,881 COVID-19 cases, the testing strategy was expanded with the launch of a rapid antigen-based diagnostic tool here on Thursday amid an assertion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi the country is not going to "sit and wail" over the coronavirus crisis.
With testing remaining a cornerstone in the fight against COVID-19, Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan also launched the first mobile laboratory for coronavirus diagnosis which can be deployed in rural areas and help in promoting last-mile testing.
According to the Union health ministry data, India's COVID-19 tally rose to 3,66,946 while the death toll climbed to 12,237 with 334 new fatalities. The fatality rate has risen from 2.8 to 3.3 per cent in the last two days.
From June 1 till 18, the country saw a surge of 1,76,411 coronavirus cases with Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, which are the five worst affected states, accounting for the rising tally. The recovery rate is currently around 53 per cent.
As cases spike in the national capital and in the satellite towns, Union Home Minister Amit Shah favoured a unified strategy for Delhi and NCR, and said suburban cities like Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad can't be separated from the national capital in the battle against the pandemic.
"India will not only fight against coronavirus, but will also win the battle and move forward. India is not going to sit and wail over the crisis," Modi said at an event to mark the launch of commercial coal block mining.
Modi also went on to say that howsoever big the crisis might be, the country is determined to turn it into an opportunity. "This coronavirus crisis has given India lessons in being Atmanirbhar, that is, Self-Reliant!"
The rapid antigen-based test on swabbed nasal samples will allow infected patients to be diagnosed much faster, at lower rates and without laboratory examination. It will help cover a large population in a short span of time and with quick results authorities can modify their strategies accordingly.
The Delhi government commenced this testing at 169 centres in and around containment zones of the city.
A total of 341 teams are involved in the testing process, an official said.
According to Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy, the Centre plans to conduct six lakh rapid antigen tests at these 169 facilities.
"Two important things happened today. COVID-19 testing rates in Delhi have been reduced to Rs 2,400 and rapid-antigen testing has started. I hope people won't face any problem in getting themselves tested now," said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
A healthcare worker at one of the testing centres said each testing kit costs Rs 450 and can provide results within 30 minutes as compared to RT-PCR test that takes three to four hours in laboratory conditions. The number of COVID-19 cases in Delhi stood at 47,102 of which 17,457 had recovered while the death toll stood at 1,904.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, suspected individuals who test negative for COVID-19 by rapid-antigen test should undergo RT-PCR test to rule out the infection while positive test results should be considered as true positive and do not need reconfirmation by RT-PCR test.
Vardhan said the first mobile lab for COVID-19 testing also called I-Lab or Infectious Diseases Diagnostics Lab, can run 50 RT-PCR and about 200 ELISA tests in a day (both blood-based tests). A double set of machines can help increase the capacity to about 500 tests per day in 8-hour shift, he said.
"This mobile testing facility will be deployed through the Department of Biotechnology testing hubs to remote regions of the country for coronavirus testing."
With Uttar Pradesh recording its highest single-day spike of 604 cases, the Allahabad high court suggested that the state government undertake mass testing of COVID-19. The state's tally stood at 15,785.
In Maharashtra, the COVID-19 tally rose to 1,20,504 with the addition of 3,752 new cases while 100 fresh deaths were recorded to take the toll to 5,751.
Tamil Nadu registered more than 2,000 fresh cases for the second straight day to take the total to 52,334.
In some concern for the northeast, Manipur reported 54 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours with all the patients having come from other states, taking its tally to 606, officials said.
In states which had cases less than 10,000, Andhra Pradesh witnessed a record single day high of 425 new taking the overall tally to 7,496.
When asked about the surge, a senior health official said the pandemic was probably peaking in the state.
"Yes, we are peaking. Handling the new case load is crucial for us now," he added.
At a meeting with Chief Minister Kejriwal and senior officials to review the COVID-19 situation in Delhi and the National Capital Region, Home Minister Shah favoured a unified Delhi-NCR strategy for COVID-19, saying the national capital can't be separated from the suburbs.
"In view of the structure of Delhi-NCR region, all concerned bodies need to unite and work on a common strategy against the coronavirus pandemic. In this context, I met with Delhi Chief Minister and senior officials of Center and Delhi-NCR today to discuss how to evolve a strategy as soon as possible," Shah tweeted.
An editorial published in ICMR's Indian Journal of Medical Research, meanwhile, said mathematical models on severity of COVID-19 pandemic in India carried a "strong element of bias and used assumptions to predict cases and deaths which "proved to be far from real".
It said that it is a "huge risk" to solely rely on these models for policy decisions on advance planning since predicting infectious diseases for a new pathogen is an "extremely perilous proposition" and hence, it should be avoided.
The editorial 'Lessons Learnt During The First 100 Days Of COVID-19 Pandemic in India' is penned by Rajesh Bhatia, former director of Communicable Diseases for WHO's South-East Asia Regional Office, and Priya Abraham, director of ICMR-National Institute of Virology.
Several mathematical models projected the severity of the pandemic in terms of cases and deaths and, at least, in the context of India, none of these proved correct and failed to predict the biological phenomenon of infectious diseases, it added.