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There is no need for reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests for covid-19 for healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel, Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said on Tuesday.

The government is looking at rationalizing RT-PCR tests, increasing rapid antigen testing (RAT) testing for early detection, isolation and home care, the ICMR chief said at a press conference.

“RT-PCR must not be repeated in individuals tested positive once either by RAT or RT-PCR. No testing is required for recovered individuals at the time of hospital discharge and also there is no need for RT-PCR tests in healthy individuals undertaking inter-state domestic travel," Bhargava said.

“Non-essential travel and interstate travel of symptomatic individuals should be essentially avoided. All asymptomatic individuals undertaking essential travel must follow covid appropriate behaviour," he said.

The government is deploying testing laboratories, Bhargava said. “With the second wave of coronavirus raging, there is a need to aggressively increase the use of RAT in rural and hard to reach areas to ensure faster isolation," Bhargava said. RAT is to be allowed at all government and private healthcare facilities and no accreditation is required, he said.

Bhargava advised setting up multiple 24X7 RAT booths in cities, towns, and villages. “RAT booths are to be set up with the community in schools, colleges, community centres, RWA offices. Public-private partnership models must be encouraged to establish innovative and convenient testing centres. RAT must be conducted in accordance with RAT algorithm defined by ICMR and all RT-PCR and RAT test results should be uploaded on ICMR portal," Bhargava said. Social distancing norms are to be ensured at all RAT and RT-PCR testing centres, he said.

Those who have fever, cough, headache, sore throat, breathlessness, bodyache, recent loss of taste or smell, fatigue, and diarrhoea, should be tested immediately and should be isolated while awaiting test results, Bhargava said.

The ICMR chief highlighted that India is conducting 1.8-2 million covid-19 tests per day despite infection among laboratory staff. “We are maintaining the performance despite staff shortage. The national covid-19 positivity rate is around 21% and about 42% (310/734) of the districts are reporting a positivity rate more than the national average," Bhargava said.

“The RT-PCR testing capacity is about 16 lakh per day in our laboratories and RAT capacity is around 17 lakh per day. In April and May, they were doing on an average 16-20 lakh RT-PCR and RAT tests combined per day," Bhargava said. On 30 April, India conducted 1,945,299 covid-19 tests, the highest by any country ever, the ICMR chief said.

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