Context:  Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has announced that 51 private laboratories [accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)] will soon be allowed to test for COVID-19 to enhance capacity for diagnosis and detection in addition to the 72 functional laboratories.


  • The announcement has come amid the “test, test, test” prescription of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
  • According to the ICMR,  the “test, test, test” prescription is not for India as community transmission of COVID-19 has not yet occurred.

Spread of COVID-19 in India

  • India has witnessed only imported cases of COVID-19 and limited local transmission from imported cases to their immediate contacts. 
  • Community transmission of the disease has not been documented till now. 
  • If community transmission is documented, the testing strategy of India needs to undergo changes to evolve into a stage appropriate testing strategy.

Current testing apparatus:

  • 72 functional ICMR laboratories in government sector for testing  
  • 49 more under organisations like Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and Defence Research, Development Organisation (DRDO)  will be active by the month end. 
  • Private NABL accredited laboratories will soon be operationalised.

New guidelines for scaling up testing:

  1. ICMR has also scaled up its testing operations and has released revised testing guidelines which includes testing norms for health care workers looking after patients with respiratory distress.
  2. Health care workers managing respiratory distress / Severe Acute Respiratory Illness should be tested when they are symptomatic.
  3. The revised norms specify that all asymptomatic patients, who have taken international flights in the past 14 days, should get tested as per current protocol if they develop symptoms. 
  4. Also symptomatic people who come in close contact with laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases must be tested.
  5. Appealing all private laboratories to offer COVID-19 diagnosis free of cost.