The Indian Council of Medical Research on Thursday said all samples taken to monitor the presence of community transmission of the novel coronavirus have tested negative. The health research body is the nodal authority for screening patients for COVID-19 in India. So far, 167 people have been infected in India, four of whom have died.

A sentinel surveillance to detect community transmission of COVID-19 was initiated by the council on February 15, the medical research council said in a statement. “The surveillance sites have been scaled up from 16 sites till February 29 to 51 sites by March 15,” it added. “Till date [Thursday], a total of 826 samples of the people suffering from severe acute respiratory infection /influenza like illnesses have been tested at the sites. However, none of the samples tested positive.”

According to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, those with severe acute respiratory illnesses who require hospitalisation and whose condition cannot be explained by any other cause, even if they do not have travel and contact history, are considered “suspect cases” for COVID-19.

“We did random sampling study of community transmission of about 820 samples from 50 sites,” said Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Balram Bhargava. “They have come negative. According to this study, the community spread [of the virus] has not happened.”

The medical body said that in view of the evolving nature of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, it will expand its surveillance on cases of community transmission to include a wider range of areas, with emphasis on regions where cases of the infection have been previously reported.

Community transmission is said to take place when the source of infection for a large number of cases in an area cannot be traced: when individuals pick up the infection without having travelled to countries where the virus is circulating or having been in contact with known confirmed cases.

The health ministry in a press conference on March 12 had claimed that India has not experienced any community transmission of the coronavirus. “Luckily for India, we do not have community transmission,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry. “We have only a few cases that have come from outside and have primarily infected their family members.”

The country had tested fewer than 6,000 people until March 13: just five tests per million people compared to more than 4,000 tests per million in South Korea.

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