The spread of Covid 19 has witnessed an exponential growth in cases, which in turn has led to severe restrictions on the functioning of the global economy. This is primarily due to a unique feature of the Covid 19 virus and the infectious cycle, where in the initial three to five-day period of infection, carriers of Covid 19 virus undergo high levels of viral shedding (replication and release) in the upper respiratory tract. The inability of historic hub and spoke laboratory testing models to deliver results within one to two hours has significantly limited our ability to open up key economic sectors such as aviation, hospitality, manufacturing and others. The recent Global Economic Prospects report by the World Bank has gone on to say, “The baseline forecast envisions a 5.2% contraction in global GDP in 2020, using market exchange rate, indicating to the deepest global recession in decades, despite the extraordinary efforts of governments to counter the downturn with fiscal and monetary policy support. Over the longer horizon, the deep recessions triggered by the pandemic are expected to leave lasting scars through lower investment, an erosion of human capital through lost work and schooling and fragmentation of global trade and supply linkages.”
With respect to India, mass testing needs further scaling up of RT-PCR testing laboratories across all tier 1, 2 and 3 cities. It has never been more critical to innovate on making RT-PCR testing mobile whereby citizens across all economic sectors can get immediate access to testing so as to enable Covid 19 free ecosystems in support of greater consumer engagement. Surveillance and contact tracing certainly require innovative upgrades, wherein, India’s own GPS capabilities need to be deployed to effectively track and trace RT-PCR positive patients with Covid 19.
The government plays a critical role in the implementation of asymptomatic personnel. However, we must not expect the government to single-handedly deliver a nationwide solution. The role of the government should be to mandate RT-PCR testing across key economic sectors such as aviation, hospitality and manufacturing. Further, financial incentives need to be put in place for the private sector to deploy RT-PCR testing services on a mass scale.
Like all living organisms, even the Covid 19 virus has a genetic code. This genetic code is made of a variant of the DNA molecule called RNA. The RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) is a molecular biology technique that has the ability to detect the smallest quantities of the RNA code of the Covid 19 virus. The technique is the gold standard due to its higher than 99% accuracy in detecting the virus.
From the standpoint of deployment of testing across multiple sectors of the Indian economy, there are three key factors to enable successful mass testing. First, accuracy is of paramount importance as the pandemic demands the detection of asymptomatic carriers of the disease that carry a low viral load. Second, the pricing of testing needs to be affordable for all economic sections of our society to enable greater uptake across diverse sectors of deployment such as railways, manufacturing and more. Third, timeliness of reporting is especially critical. If we seek greater opening of the economy, particular sectors such as aviation and railways will rely on result reporting within one to two hours.
GeneStores upcoming innovations are focused on enhancing mobility of RT-PCR testing across diverse economic sectors and cutting short the processing times to under one hour. Additionally, research programmes are presently focused on enabling a DIY testing model based on molecular biology techniques. The future of laboratory based real-time PCR based assays is geared for a transformation, where citizens will be able to diagnose everything from the common flu to sexually transmitted diseases from the comfort of their homes with the pinpoint precision of real-time PCR assays.
-The author is the Global CEO and R&D Head, GeneStore.