India has ordered a pause in testing for antibodies to the coronavirus because of concern over the accuracy, health officials said on Wednesday, complicating the fight against the epidemic as its tally of cases nears 20,000.
India trails many countries in conducting the standard swab tests to determine the presence of the novel coronavirus because of limited testing equipment and protective gear for medical workers.
Early this month, health authorities approved blood tests for coronavirus antibodies as a faster way to bolster the screening effort and they ordered more than a half billion testing kits from China.
But the chief of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr R.R. Gangakhedkar, said he had asked health authorities to temporarily stop the tests for antibodies because of conflicting results.
“This is a first-generation test developed in just three-and-a-half months and needs refinement, the variations cannot be ignored,” he said.
Federal health experts have been sent to help authorities in states to validate the equipment.
“We have advised the states not to use them for the next two days until we come out with an advisory,” he said.
The antibody tests do not always pick up early-stage infections but show whether a person had the virus in the past, even if the person had no symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In comparison, the swab test, known as the RT-PCR-technology swab test, determines whether a person has the virus at that moment by looking for it in nose or throat secretions.
The health minister of the western state of Rajasthan said the two tests were in some cases producing conflicting results, raising doubts reliability.