Contact tracing abandoned, no test for asymptomatic: ICMR’s new Covid guidelines take a turn


ICMR publishes new guidelines for Covid-19 | Photo credit: iStock Images

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued new guidelines amid the spike in Covid-19 cases in the country due to the Omicron variant. World Health Organization (WHO) advisories have consistently warned the world of the high contagiousness of Omicron, which is said to be at least five times more contagious than the Delta variant.

The ICMR guidelines, however, state that asymptomatic people do not need to be tested even if they have been in contact with Covid patients. Not only that, the country’s top government medical body also said people undertaking “interstate domestic travel” also don’t need to get tested. The Reasoned Testing Strategy for Covid-19 advice says the guidelines can be changed by state governments to suit their needs.

So who needs to be tested and who doesn’t according to the ICMR? Here is a complete guide.

Who should be tested?

If you are not hospitalized, you will only need to get tested if you are:

a) Symptomatic: The guidelines clearly state that testing is needed for people who have a cough, fever, sore throat, loss of taste and/or smell, shortness of breath and/or other respiratory symptoms .

b) Vulnerable and at-risk contacts confirmed cases of Covid-19: this includes people who are high-risk contacts – the elderly (over 60), those with co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic lung or kidney disease, etc

vs) International travelers: International travelers entering the country and arriving at Indian airports, seaports and other entry points as per guidelines.

However, if you are in a hospital, the ICMR recommends doctors’ discretion in deciding who should be tested. He made some considerations even here, though. Hospitals should not delay any emergency procedures (including surgeries and deliveries) for lack of Covid testing. Patients cannot be referred to other establishments because there is no screening center at the hospital. Additionally, all arrangements should be made by the hospital to collect and transfer specimens to testing facilities that have been mapped to the hospital/healthcare facility. The guidelines also state that asymptomatic patients undergoing invasive surgical/non-surgical procedures (including pregnant women in or near labor and hospitalized for childbirth) should not be tested unless warranted or only symptoms develop.

Now comes the question of who does not need to be tested under the new guidelines. The ICMR eliminated “unnecessary tests” to reduce the pressure on laboratories.

You do not need to be tested if you are:

a) Asymptomatic: People who live in community settings do not need to be tested if they are asymptomatic.

b) Covid patient contacts: Even if you have been in contact with a laboratory-confirmed Covid patient, but are asymptomatic and not identified as high risk due to your age or co-morbidities, you do not need to get you tested.

vs) Covid patients discharged from hospital in accordance with home isolation guidelines, or have been released from a Covid facility in accordance with the revised discharge policy.

D) Domestic travelers: Individuals undertaking interstate domestic travel do not need to be tested.

The medical profession has also said that home tests or self-tests / RAT and molecular tests should be considered confirmatory, with no repeat testing if they confirm the presence of the infection. Otherwise, only symptomatic individuals should undergo RT-PCR or other confirmatory testing. Besides RT-PCR, ICMR has also approved testing via True Nat, CBNAAT, CRISPR, RT-LAMP, Rapid Molecular Testing Systems or via Rapid Antigen Test (RAT).

The medical profession, however, emphasizes screening and early detection of symptomatic cases for isolation and care. It also stresses that older people (over 60) and those with comorbidities should get tested early if they have been exposed or are symptomatic.


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