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Centre offers Rs 20 crore extra grant to ICMR to prepare for combating coronavirus

NEW DELHI: The government has offered an extra-budgetary grant of Rs 20 crore to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that could be used on conducting tests, preparing strategies to fight the coronavirus outbreak and develop drugs and vaccines against it, officials in the health research agency said on Friday.

The agency has been spending Rs 1,000-1,500 per lab screening and the second test that is carried out in case the first screening indicates the presence of virus in the sample, costs the agency Rs 5,000 per sample.

“So far, nearly 6,500 tests have been conducted on samples from 5,900 individuals,” Dr Balram Bhargava, director general, ICMR, said at a press conference said. Officials said the agency gets Rs 5 crore every year towards communicable disease outbreaks, but since the coronavirus outbreak, it has already spent more than that so far. 

Bhargava, meanwhile, also announced that India has successfully isolated the COVID-19 virus strain, making India the fifth nation in the world to do so. Other countries that have isolated the virus are Japan, Thailand, US and China.

The isolation is the first step towards expediting the development of drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits in the country.  The agency has expanded its network of labs equi test COVID-19 to 65 from 51. The secondary test for reconfirmation of the virus, which was earlier conducted only in National Institute of Virology, has also been expanded to 31 labs. These steps are expected to enable India to expedite detection of the virus.

“People should not panic, but take precautionary measures,” said Bhargava.“We at ICMR have been constantly in a vigil mode and our laboratories have enough capacity to test. We will be issuing advisories and revising guidelines for testing as and when necessary.”