The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the nation’s top biomedical research agency, halted testing of covid-19 suspects with rapid testing kits imported from China because of a huge variation in test results, compounding the challenge to contain the pandemic.

“As we got complaints from some states about the inaccuracy of the test results, we spoke with two more states and found major variations. In some places, it is 6% while in others it is 71%,” said Raman R. Gangakhedkar, head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at ICMR.

“This is not a good thing. In a scenario of such huge variation, we need to investigate further. This is a new disease and we have only three-and-a-half months of experience in handling it. We are seeing new things and technologies also have to be refined but we can’t ignore these findings,” he said.

The development comes even as the country’s covid-19 caseload rose to 19,940 and 640 people died because of the disease.

“We can raise an issue with the manufacturer if results continue to be faulty,” Gangakhedkar said.

Chinese test kits were withdrawn from some European countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and the Slovak Republic because of inaccuracies in test results, according to media reports.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Rajasthan government said that the rapid testing kits for covid-19 were delivering inaccurate results and it has informed ICMR about it. The kits gave only 5.4% accurate results, but should ideally be 90% accurate, Rajasthan health minister Raghu Sharma said. The government said that a committee comprising heads of medicine and microbiology departments of the Sawai Man Singh government hospital was set up to examine the accuracy of the kits.

The ICMR also received complaints from West Bengal over improper functioning of RT-PCR kits and the state had to repeat tests. India last week procured more than 500,000 rapid antibody testing kits from China and distributed them among states for testing in districts having outbreaks of covid-19. The RT-PCR test kits approved by the US Food and Drug Administration are not meant for early diagnosis, but only to be used for surveillance and monitoring trends, ICMR said.

The government on Tuesday said that according to the Indian experience of testing for coronavirus, 69% positive cases are asymptomatic, while 31% are symptomatic or show mild symptoms of the disease. At least 10 health workers have tested positive in Delhi’s Lady Hardinge Medical College’s Kalawati Saran Children’s Hospital, a senior official said. An infant died of the disease and a 10 month-old tested positive in the hospital.

However, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union health ministry, said that India’s recovery rate has increased to 17.48% and four districts Mahe (Puducherry), Kodagu (Karnataka), Pauri Garhwal (Uttarakhand), and Pratapgarh (Rajasthan) have not reported any fresh case in the past 28 days. There are now 61 additional districts that have not reported any fresh cases in the past 14 days.

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