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Andhra Covid kits are better than antibody tests, cheaper & faster, says industries minister

AP's Industries and IT minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said the state leveraged its medical devices manufacturing park to create the TruNat tests that can work with TB equipment.

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Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh government is equipped to deal with 20,000 Covid-19 cases per day, said state Industries and Commerce Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy.

In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Reddy said, “We prepared keeping in mind 20,000 Covid cases a day,” and added that the state’s efforts early on ensured they had a sufficient supply of Covid-19 testing kits.

Reddy said the state’s testing capacity could be increased — currently at 15,000 kits a day — due to these efforts and its existing medical equipment manufacturing infrastructure. As a result, the state’s low cost of production could open up some business opportunities in Africa, Reddy added.

Andhra Pradesh was also the first state to offer relief to the MSME sector, the minister said, and added that this coupled with the state’s IT advantage, will be used to generate employment.

Early Covid planning

Speaking about the state’s planning for the Covid crisis, Reddy, who is also the state’s information technology (IT) minister, said, “When the world first became aware of the Covid outbreak in December (2019), our chief minister (Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy) called the health minister then itself asking for an action plan.”

The chief scientist at the Andhra Pradesh Medtech Zone (AMTZ) near Visakhapatnam had pointed out the lack of availability of sufficient medical testing kits in the second week of February, which led to a decision to manufacture them from 15 March, said Reddy.

AMTZ is a medical devices manufacturing park set up by the state government in 2016.

“When the chief scientist pointed this out, he suggested that there was an opportunity to create or manufacture them here,” Reddy said, adding that the CM immediately sanctioned the funds required for the purpose.

The testing kits were later sanctioned and approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country’s top medical research body.

“We started developing (manufacturing) a kit, which was more accurate in its result over the antibodies testing kit, as DNA, RNA and even PCR tests could be performed using these kits,” the minister added, referring to the TruNat test.

Emphasising how these TruNat kits could produce results in an hour, unlike the kits the rest of India was using, Reddy said the state was able to ramp up its testing capacities for Covid.

“It was an innovative process as these testing machines could be integrated with our existing tuberculosis testing equipment and was announced in mid-March itself,” he said.

The state has been using TB equipment since April for Covid testing.

As of Wednesday, Andhra Pradesh recorded a total of 10,002 cases and 119 deaths.

Also read: How Andhra is firmly testing, treating its way out of Covid crisis, but Telangana struggling

‘Manufacturing 4,50,000 kits daily’

Industries and Commerce Minister Mekapati Goutham Reddy said the country was testing only a few hundred samples daily until this mechanism ⁠— the TruNat testing kits ⁠— came about.

“We scaled it up to 1,000 a day with these machines and then kept multiplying,” he said.

From not having a single testing facility in March, Andhra Pradesh now has 52 government-run testing labs for Covid testing.

The minister also lauded the AMTZ team for manufacturing a huge quantity of testing kits, which are also supplied to the central government.

“We are currently manufacturing about 15,000 kits a day and soon we will be ramping this up to 25,000 kits a day and it can even go up to 50,000 to 1 lakh. This means we are already manufacturing 4,50,000 kits in a month, which in turn means, the system is supporting not only the AP but the entire country,” said the minister, who represents the Atmakuru constituency in Nellore.

AMTZ and a couple of medical colleges will also be manufacturing ventilators to meet the growing demand. “In each district of Andhra Pradesh, we want to have 1,500 to 2,000 ventilators ready in the worst case scenario if the existing cases end up being terminal,” he added.

Meanwhile, the industries ministry will soon create a 25,000-strong force of nurses to help the government tackle Covid-19 cases effectively. The minister shared that an online training programme in nursing is in the works.

Also read: How this Andhra village paid a very heavy price for ignoring the lockdown

On opportunity for exports to African states

With the low cost of production for Covid-19 testing kits, Goutham Reddy said the government sees an “immediate market in the poor African states” to earn more revenue given the situation.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also looking at us to fund the initiative in Africa,” said the minister, adding that discussions were on.

On the IT advantage

Covid has been a “blessing for the IT sector” in the state, said the minister.

He labeled Andhra Pradesh’s high-speed fibernet programme, wherein “almost 24,000 km of optical fibre have been laid across households”, as “disruptive” in view of the work-from-home culture that has emerged out of the Covid crisis.

“It will be of big advantage to the state of Andhra Pradesh to ensure proper broadband network and encourage the work from home norm in the future,” he said.

The industries ministry will be training 50,000 IT engineers this year to cope with the revised models of work-from-home, the minister said, adding that 70 per cent of the workforce in Bengaluru and Hyderabad were from the Telugu-speaking belt of Andhra.

“These migrants are returning to Andhra Pradesh and we want to integrate them in our system,” said Reddy.

‘Andhra first state to bring MSME relief package’

Speaking about the manufacturing industry, Goutham Reddy said Andhra Pradesh CM was the “first in the country” to announce a relief package for the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

“The honourable CM released pending incentives of Rs 950 crore to 11,238 MSME manufacturing and allied units in two phases over a period of two months during the lockdown so that they could operate smoothly,” said the minister.

He also added that to enable these manufacturing units to meet liquidity crisis, loans of Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh will be provided at 6-8 per cent interest rate. Fixed or demand charges for the “large or mega units” have been deferred for three months from April to June, without levying any interest or penal charges on these large industries. Reddy added that electricity waivers for three months were also announced.

“We will also be giving micro lending at a very low cost to revive these industries. The CM brought in a Rs 200 crore corpus fund for the same,” he said. “Not as simple to say MSME sector in AP revived but (we are) ready to make use of advantages in the market.”

The minister has also ordered a survey of unemployed youth in the state, given that 3.5 lakh migrants left Andhra during the lockdown and 1 lakh returned to the state.

Also read: This Hyderabad cemetery buries coronavirus victims no one else will

On employment generation

Adopting a new job creation strategy, under which “any industry that comes in from now should be able to provide 75 per cent employment to youth” in Andhra Pradesh, the state is also setting up 30 skilled development colleges and an IT university in Tirupati, said Goutham Reddy.

The state is also in the process of rolling out a new industrial policy focusing on “world class infrastructure, committed water, electricity and management”, he told ThePrint.

The Andhra government has also signed a deal for a new international airport at Bhogapuram with a capacity for 6-7 million annual passengers initially.

“Along with this, three major parts will soon be at construction stage and seven fishing harbours to facilitate marine products and aquaculture,” said the minister. Andhra is among the largest global exporters of fisheries and aqua products.

Also read: Mobile Covid testing takes off in Andhra as Jagan govt plans to add 53 state buses to fleet


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