TN govt says rapid kits from China will arrive in two days, but will they?

According to sources, Tamil Nadu has ordered 4 lakh kits, of which 1 lakh are expected to be delivered in the first consignment.
 TN govt says rapid kits from China will arrive in two days, but will they?
TN govt says rapid kits from China will arrive in two days, but will they?

On Saturday evening, three days after Tamil Nadu was supposed to receive the rapid antibody test kits that it had ordered from China, the state Chief Secretary K Shanmugam, delivered shocking news. He told the media present at the Secretariat that there is a delay in receiving the kits – because the consignment meant for India got ‘diverted’ to the United States of America. Sources in the Tamil Nadu government now tell TNM that kits are likely to arrive in two days.

However, although the state government appears confident that the kits will reach soon, the company that Tamil Nadu has ordered these kits from has not honoured its other commitments yet.

"While orders have been placed with many companies, the primary company we have approached is called Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech. Around 1 lakh Wondfo SARS-CoV-2 antibody test kits are expected to reach soon," says a source in the government. Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech is a China based company that has been approved for providing rapid testing kits to India by India's nodal medical agency, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Reports suggest that these kits could cost USD 6 to 10 (approx Rs 460 to 760) each. ICMR has also ordered 5 lakh kits from Wondfo – but the firm has not delivered these kits yet.

The delay has been attributed to China changing its policy and making it mandatory for any consignment going out of the country to be endorsed by the government, Chinese FDA (Food and Drug Administration) [National Medical Products Administration]. Because of this, there has been a domino effect across the world, and countries like the US, that have been on the waiting list for longer and have more muscle power, are being given first preference once the kits are ready to ship.

"What the Chief Secretary said in the press conference is not a problem for Tamil Nadu alone. Across India, no states have received rapid testing kits. Our Ministry of External Affairs and the Union government are following up on this matter on a daily basis and we, in turn, are contacting the Centre constantly for any updates on the matter," says the senior official. 

The Tamil Nadu government is cognizant of the question over the quality of these kits, and is taking precautions as well, says the source. "When the kits arrive in Tamil Nadu, we will send them to the King Institute of Preventive Medicine and Research to validate. Kits which had arrived in Spain from China were found to be faulty, so this a precaution we will take," says the government source.

However, while the state government insists that these kits will arrive in two days, the ICMR has not committed to a definite timeline. On Tuesday, when reporters asked the Union Health Ministry and ICMR about the status of the kits, they were told that 37 lakh antibody kits ‘will arrive anytime soon’.

When asked about the usage of these kits, the senior officer in Tamil Nadu says that it will not replace the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are currently in use. "For high-risk people, we will continue with PCR tests. But for others, at the community level testing, we will use these kits which will detect antibodies to coronavirus. If they are positive then they will be taken for PCR tests. This will reduce pressure on the medical system and also the results will be much faster allowing for more tests," he says.

While the official says the state is confident about the containment measures taken, whether they have been fully successful will be known only after the lockdown is lifted. "If it is lifted on May 3, by the first week of June, the real result of the efforts taken now will be apparent." 

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