Mumbai News

Unlock plan: BMC mulls Mumbai-wide antibody tests – Times of India

MUMBAI: The BMC plans to carry out a city-wide random testing for antibodies to the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. While the plan is still in its infancy, senior BMC officials hoped such a test—by determining how many citizens have been exposed to the virus or have antibodies—would help them plan unlocking strategies for the city.
“Knowing the levels of antibodies in the community will help us decide if people should be allowed to commute or attend workplaces,” said additional civic commissioner Suresh Kakani.

The results of a 3-ward serosurvey has showed 57% of people in slums had antibodies, as against 16% in non-slums areas.
BMC wants ‘snapshot of immunity’ across city
However, a wider survey would help determine the levels across the city, said officials. “A city-wide survey is still an initial discussion,” said a senior doctor attached to the BMC. ‘The initial survey finding showed good signs about the presence of antibodies among people in three of the 24 administrative wards in the city, and it needs to be repeated in other areas too,” the doctor said.
On Thursday, when a TOI correspondent visited the congested slum pockets of Dharavi, people were roaming freely, many not following social distancing norms. Once the worst Covid hotbed in the country, it now reports cases in single digits every day (four on Saturday).
An official from the BMC HQ said fewer cases now come from wards that have big slum pockets such as M East (Govandi), H East (eastern stretch of Bandra-Khar-Santacruz), P North (Malad East and West), L (Kurla-Saki Naka) and congested areas of B (Dongri) ward. “We believe this may be due to herd immunity, but we don’t know the exact reason. A random sero-survey across the city will give us a picture of the entire city,” he said.
A public hospital doctor said while such a survey would help BMC gather a ‘snapshot of immunity’, it should be done scientifically to get the right picture. Dr Rahul Pandit, an intensivist and member of the state task force on Covid, said BMC needs to conduct such a survey by testing a minimum of 1% of the population in each ward. “Care should be taken to ensure equal representation between slums and non-slum areas,” he added.
Dr Shashank Joshi, dean of Indian College of Physicians and a member of the task force, said, “Antibody tests only say if a person has been exposed to the virus. They don’t show immunity and can’t be considered a guarantee against future infection.” While such tests would be “good public health exercise,” it may not be useful at a personal level. “The person may think he has immunity while he only has exposure. He doesn’t have an immunity passport,” Dr Joshi said. There also is concern about longevity of antibodies as initial studies have shown antibodies drastically reduce within a couple of months. “We have to do such studies scientifically, look for the neutralizing antibody and also at T-cell responses. All these will take 3-4 months to study,” he added. Meanwhile, a BMC health department official said there are set parameters to conduct such surveys.