Srinagar: Chinese rapid testing kits, distributed by the central government to various states/union territories to detect coronavirus, became a major source of panic at a village in Srinagar earlier this week.
On Tuesday, a man in his 30s from Chandhara village of Pampore tehsil in Pulwama district tested “weak positive” for Covid-19 after his samples were examined using the rapid antibody testing kits.
As soon as the news spread in the village, panic-stricken residents forcefully locked the government quarantine centre in Pampore where the man had stayed for 16 days until 8 April. The centre is, at present, empty.
The situation was brought under control after tehsil officials Wednesday pacified the local residents, saying they have suspended the use of the rapid testing kits, some which could be “faulty”.
The man is now at home, but has been asked to remain in isolation along with his family members.
On Tuesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s nodal health research body, had asked states not to use the Chinese rapid testing kits for the next two days after huge variations in the accuracy of results were noticed across regions.
India had procured around 5 lakh rapid testing kits, most of which are from China, earlier this month.
The Centre dispatched 12,000 kits to the union territory last week — 9,000 for Kashmir and 3,000 for the Jammu region. Of these, 200-300 were sent to Pulwama district and 30 to Pampore, which is located some 20 kilometres from Srinagar, J&K administration officials said.
Man had travel history to Uganda and Nizamuddin
A Pampore tehsil official said the man who tested “weak positive” had a travel history to Uganda and New Delhi’s Nizamuddin, where the Tablighi Jamaat held its event in March. He was quarantined at a government health facility-turned-quarantine centre in Pampore in the last week of March.
After his 16-day quarantine ended on 8 April, his samples were sent for a test. The results came back negative on 12 April, following which he was sent home, but was asked to remain in quarantine.
However, the tehsil official said, after the arrival of the new rapid antibody testing kits last week, district officials were asked to again test high-risk people as well those who had visited Nizamuddin using the new kits. Therefore, the Chandhara resident was again tested using the new kits.
“The people to be tested again included high-risk cases. More than 80 per cent of the Covid-19 cases we have in J&K are asymptomatic. So the retesting was a precautionary measure,” said another senior tehsil official.
‘Situation under control’
A senior J&K administration official said the rapid antibody tests are done not to detect Covid-19 virus, but to spot presence of antibodies that might have developed due to infection from the virus (SARS-CoV-2).
“The kit ideally has three red lines — C, which is called the quality control line, G, which shows presence of IgM antibody and M, which detects IgM antibody. So if only C appears, the patient tests negative for antibodies. The patient tests positive for antibodies if the C line appears with M or with G or if all three lines appear,” said the official, who didn’t want to be named.
“In the case of Chandhara resident, the test showed positive for one of the anti-bodies without the C line, which was an aberration. The doctors declared the patient to be weak positive as they did not want to take any chances despite the kits being faulty. They put the individual under observation (at home) along with his family members. Doctors were certain that he was not Covid-positive but still wanted to be sure. However, this was enough reason for the local residents to panic,” the official added.
On the objection of local residents to the functioning of the quarantine centre, Pampore Tehsildar Ishtiyaq Mohi Ud Din told ThePrint they explained to them the science behind the rapid test kits.
“After hearing that some locals had objected to the functioning of the quarantine centre, our teams swung into action. We spoke to the locals and explained the basic science behind the rapid antibody tests. We informed them that using the kits had been suspended. We also assured them that all necessary steps are being taken to keep them safe,” he added.
“For now we have, just like the rest of the country, suspended testing through the new kits. Situation in the village has been brought under control as well,” he said.
Asked about the aberration in the Pampore case, public health specialist Dr Rabbani, who is currently involved in planning anti-Covid-19 measures in Srinagar, said more tests are needed to find out the reason.
“It cannot be conclusively said what was the reason behind the aberration. To find out, we will require a series of tests of the individual or perhaps the kit was faulty. That is the reason that using the kits has been suspended for now,” she said.
“The rapid antibody test is not the final test to declare whether a person is suffering from Covid-19. Ultimately, a series of tests need to be performed and officials are working to employ all the best possible options,” she added.