The Indian Council for Medical Research on Friday revised its testing criteria for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, saying all hospitalised patients with SARS, shortness of breath, and fever and cough will now be tested. SARS is severe acute respiratory illness.

The number of positive cases in the country rose to 258 on Saturday morning. The previous day, India had registered its largest single-day spike – 63 cases.

The coronavirus testing agency also said that asymptomatic direct and high-risk contacts of a confirmed case must be tested once between the fifth and the fourteenth day of coming in contact with the patient. The ICMR defined direct and high-risk contact as those living with a COVID-19 patient, and healthcare workers who examine confirmed cases without adequate protection according to World Health Organization guidelines.

The revisions to the advisory on India’s testing strategy have been reviewed by the National Task Force and were made to provide reliable diagnosis to all individuals, the medical body said in a statement. The ICMR has updated and reviewed the testing criteria three times till now, with the last two revisions carried out on March 16 and March 9.

Currently, India has witnessed cases of COVID-19 mostly related to travel and local transmission from international cases to their immediate contacts, the statement said. “Community transmission of the disease has not been documented till now,” it added. “Once community transmission is documented, the above testing strategy will undergo changes to evolve into stage appropriate testing strategy.”

The medical body said that all individuals who travelled abroad in the last 14 days must put themselves in self-quarantine for two weeks. However, they should be tested only if they exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus such as fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, it added. Their family members should also be quarantined.

People who have been in close contact of laboratory confirmed cases of the COVID-19 must be screened immediately, the ICMR added.

ICMR statement on testing strategies issued on March 16.
ICMR statement on testing strategies issued on March 20.

The government as well as medical experts have advised social distancing, and thereby avoiding large gatherings, as one of the major preventive measures. With this in mind, several states in India have virtually shut down to tackle the crisis. Educational institutions, and public spaces such as eateries, malls, gyms and swimming pools have been closed till the end of the month.

The Ministry of Health on Friday instructed hospitals to not turn away patients suspected of having coronavirus, and that patients with pneumonia should also be tested for the disease.

COVID-19 has infected 2,74,707 people worldwide and killed 11,387, according to an estimate from John Hopkins University, which is live-tracking cases reported by the World Health Organization and additional sources.