Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is actively exploring a saliva-based test for COVID-19, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said here on Sunday, adding that there has been no significant mutation in SARS-CoV-2 in India.
Speaking during his social media interaction, Sunday Samvaad, the Minister said, “On the recent saliva-based test for COVID-19, the ICMR has validated a few tests but no reliable test has been found and companies with tests approved by U.S.-FDA have still not approached the Government of India. ICMR is actively exploring this test method and will inform as soon as reliable options are available.”
On mutation in the virus, Dr. Harsh Vardhan assured that “no significant or drastic mutations have been found in strains of SARS-CoV-2 in India till now”.
He said the ICMR has been conducting large-scale sequencing of nationally representative strains of SARS-CoV-2 virus collected over the past several months over different time-points and detailed results on mutations and evolution of the virus will be available in early October. He also noted that it would take substantive time for herd immunity to develop so as to be able to cover about 70% of the population.
“Hence the focus of the government is primarily towards putting together a strategy that combines containment and hospital management,” he said.
Dr. Vardhan said there is enough oxygen being produced in the country and the Health Ministry is closely monitoring the situation.
“The Ministry had dispatched oxygen concentrators to the rural parts of the country specifically to avert the logistic issues coming to light,” he said.
Asked about the trials of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine candidate being paused, the Minister said vaccine development is a complex process and trials have been restarted only after an independent investigative expert committee gave its nod.
Relief for kin
He said that so far a total of 155 families of COVID warriors have claimed relief under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana.
“These include 64 doctors, 32 auxiliary nurse midwives and multipurpose healthcare workers, 14 ASHA workers and 45 other front line workers who lost their lives.”
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, Dr. Vardhan said the current COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on everyone’s mental health, especially elderly persons who are aware of being at a higher risk.
“Coronavirus becomes fatal for the elderly and the co-morbid but this does not mean that a younger person cannot die due to COVID-19 though the risk of death is far lower in this case for younger people,” he said.