Online consultation and e-pharmacy platform Practo has partnered with private laboratory Thyrocare to provide COVID-19 home tests in Mumbai. Navi Mumbai company Thyrocare — among 49 private laboratories approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for COVID-19 testing — is authorised to conduct tests in Maharashtra. Practo declined to disclose to MediaNama the number of tests done so far.

Practo said it will soon expand tests to the rest of the country. The company will likely do so in partnership with other ICMR-approved private testing labs, which are situated across 11 states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kolkata, among others. Practo told MediaNama it is too early too comment on this.

How the tests will be done: People can book the tests — capped by the Health Ministry at a cost of Rs 4,500 — on either Practo or Thyrocare. They will have to provide a doctor’s prescription along with a Test Requisition Form, and their photo ID. This is in line with the ICMR’s private testing guidelines, which mandate private labs to collect contact information of the patients to enable contact tracing.

How samples will be collected, and precautions: Certified phelobotomists — physicians who draw blood from patients — from healthcare company I2H Solutions will collect the samples from the patients’ home directly, and will take all “necessary precautions” in the ICMR guidelines while taking swabs, Practo said. The Practo app says a trained lab technician wearing a single-use bio-hazard suit will be sent to collect the sample. India does not have its own bio-safety standards, so it’s unclear why Practo is following this particular protocol. The company simply told us that it’s following the ICMR guidelines, but even those say that “appropriate biosafety and biosecurity precautions should be ensured” while collecting samples, without going into specifics.

The swabs will be transported in a cold chain to the Thyrocare lab, results will be available within 48 hours but this is subject to government regulations. The lab may also share the report with the authorised government bodies, Practo said, in line with ICMR guidlelines that private laboratories have to report the number of tests conducted in real-time to ICMR. 

Sharing of samples: Government guidelines for private labs also require that the patient’s samples are not shared with any other organisation. It’s unclear who will be responsible for ensuring this, as three different entities are involved in Practo’s testing — Practo, I2H, and Thyrocare. We did not receive a clear answer from Practo on this, instead the company simply said it is committed to ensuring that all guidelines are adhered to. 

Issues faced during testing: Last week, Thyrocare ran into roadblocks during its first day of home tests in Mumbai. Only 30 out of the 3,000 people who booked tests agreed to get tested. 27 people out of those refused to get tested because the technician was wearing protective gear, fearing stigma from neighbours. Eventually, only 3 tests were conducted. Practo told us that its phlebotomists were not able to move around due to the lockdown, but the company is working with authorities for permissions.

Within a week of the nationwide lockdown, India has seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, with 1,251 positive cases and 32 deaths so far. Of these, 227 cases and 5 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours. The Indian government has also identified 10 hotspots, where unusually high numbers of transmission have been seen, while maintaining that there has been no or “limited” community transmission.