Pakistani scientists close to developing Covid-19 testing kits
March 19 2020 03:04 AM
Shopkeepers stand outside their partially opened shop as police officers try to close market after Sindh provincial government decided to shut markets, restaurants, beaches and discouraged large gatherings amid the outbreak of novel coronavirus, in Karachi, Pakistan.


Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged calm after its tally of coronavirus cases rose to 245. In a late Tuesday address to the nation, PM Khan urged citizens to remain calm and not rush to get tested. 
“Even the US doesn’t have the resources to test everyone who comes,” he said. “Only those with intense symptoms should go to hospital.”
“There is no need to worry. We will fight this as a nation. And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said.
His comments came amid a growing dispute in Pakistan between federal and provincial authorities with the latter struggling to secure sufficient coronavirus testing kits and blaming the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine hundreds of Pakistanis who recently returned home across a land border with Iran.
Late on Tuesday, Pakistan said it would require all arriving air passengers to show they had tested negative for the disease. Land borders have already been shut. 

Coronavirus kit
As the pandemic spreads and case statistics increase by leaps and bounds, Pakistani scientists are on the brink of developing locally produced diagnostic kits for the novel coronavirus. The kits, to be prepared by scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV), with the collaboration of Chinese researchers, will be the first of its kind to be produced in the country, claim researchers behind the project. The latest development in the project surfaced when scientists achieved ‘positive control’ of the virus in the first phase of experimentation. Since then, preliminary experimentation on the synthetic plasmid gene of the coronavirus imported from China has been completed while orders have been placed for the import of chemicals required for the second stage of the process.
International Center for Chemical and Biology Sciences (ICCBS) Director Prof Dr Iqbal Chaudhry, confirmed the development of the diagnostic kits at the National Institute of Virology, a sub-institution under ICCBS of the University of Karachi. “Covid-19 is a national threat and we, with the intention of curbing and controlling the disease in the country have begun preparing to produce the kits domestically in Pakistan,” he added.
According to Dr Mohamed Ammar Athar, a Pakistani scientist working on producing the diagnostic kits, they have set two targets for the project. The first, fundamental target is to prepare the early diagnostic kits capable of diagnosing the lowest limits of the virus, while the second target is to diagnose multiple people with a single low-cost kit. “The required six chemicals are expected to arrive from Canada by next week and it will take us about 18 months from then to prepare the diagnostic kits,” he claimed. As per Pakistani researchers, the Chinese imported synthetic plasmid gene of the coronavirus has been matched with a designed primer and has proven successful in detecting the virus. “We have obtained a positive control of the virus and changed the primer from a powder form to liquid which is lyophilised to save the biological content,” the researchers informed.
So far, imported coronavirus kits have not been entirely successful in detecting the virus despite clear symptoms since the kits are not equipped for early detection or low limits of the virus. “However, our primary target for the domestically produced kits is to focus on early detection,” said Dr Ammar Athar.
“Scientifically speaking, the limit of a virus in a human body is called ‘copy’. The kits that have arrived in Pakistan are capable of detecting a viral load 300 copies while we aim to diagnose as low as 50 copies with our own kits. This is a huge target to achieve but if we are able to detect the virus in its early stages before it multiplies, it will make treatment significantly easier,” he added.
As per ICCBS Director Dr Iqbal Chaudhry, certain kits being imported from China and other countries have the capacity to test 20 cases while others can test 48. “However, we are trying to prepare a kit capable of testing over 300 samples and real-time work on PCR technology is being carried out for the preparation of these kits, producing which can cost up to Rs250,000 to 300,000 per kit,” Chaudhry further informed.
Chaudhry also assured of full co-operation to the relevant authorities regarding funding for the project. “The test is likely to cost between Rs300 to Rs500 after the preparation of the diagnostic kits, while the management of a public and private hospital has also been contacted in the regard since samples of a few Covid-19 positive cases are required for the preparation of the kits,” said the ICCBS director.
“Both hospitals have agreed full co-operation but owing to the sensitivity of the matter, the positive test samples required for the preparation of the kit would not be transported but experimented internally at the concerned hospitals,” he concluded.

Fake virus tests in Sindh
Police and healthcare authorities in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province have carried out operations against those violating the ban on public gatherings, imposed amid the coronavirus outbreak, vendors selling items at inflated prices and quack physicians conducting fake coronavirus tests in Sindh. 
The Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC) launched a crackdown on quack doctors who carried out fake coronavirus tests across Sindh.
Following the spike in coronavirus cases, quacks have been administering fake tests and displaying banners in this regard outside their clinics. Upon receiving several complaints, the provincial government launched an operation against them. Speaking in this regard, SHCC Commission Chief Executive Officer Dr Minhaj Qidwai has urged the public not to fall into the trap of fake doctors and only get tested for the virus from hospital designated by the health department.
Meanwhile, police conducted a raid at Lal Qila restaurant late Monday night and arrested four staff members, including the restaurant’s manager, for violating the ban placed on public gatherings to prevent coronavirus spread. According to police, a wedding reception was held at the restaurant where approximately 200 guests were invited.
A case against the arrested has been registered at Bahadurabad police station. Separately, three other persons, including a foreigner, were arrested for hoarding face masks, during an operation in Azizabad. Separately, police conducted a raid at a school in Liaquatabad and arrested the school administrator for not suspending classes as per the Sindh government’s orders. A case has been registered against the administrator.
Police have also claimed to have arrested a shopkeeper for selling surgical masks at inflated rates in Sukkur, on the same day. According to police, the arrested shopkeeper was identified as Ibrahim and shifted to a police station for interrogation. The arrest was made during a crackdown on hoarders of face masks and hand sanitisers as well as those selling these items at higher prices in the city, where over 100 cases of Covid-19 had been reported so far.

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