The rapid antigen tests that the health ministry recently stocked up on in its battle against time to detect coronavirus cases among Cyprus employees require careful handling.
On the one hand are the risks associated with releasing the tests into the market, and on the other is the public’s concern for their health. Pressure is already mounting for rapid tests to become available in the market, but experts are warning of the likely errors and complications that will result from the general public testing themselves.
On Tuesday, the EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that mass testing allows countries to have a better idea of the epidemiological situation, but stressed the use of rapid antigen tests must be done under certain conditions.
At the same time, the first phase of the pandemic saw rapid testing methods being released into the market, only to be immediately rejected by the scientific community due to the unreliability of results. The current second wave has seen the development of a more effective rapid testing method, with significantly higher accuracy in terms of results.
Kathimerini Cyprus reported on Wednesday that pharmacies have already approached companies importing the rapid antigen tests in order to secure a steady supply and make the tests available to the general public. In fact, it’s not entirely impossible that these rapid tests are already on sale and that a number of people have performed the test on themselves, despite the health ministry’s disapproval.
Circles from within the scientific community told "K" that in the past few days, a company importing rapid antigen test was approached by a pharmacy that wished to supply the tests. The same sources pointed out that this may pose a problem if done extensively.
Since proper sampling techniques, identical to those used during PCR tests, are required to ensure a valid result with a rapid antigen test, scientists cast doubt over whether self-checks will follow correct procedures.
Another issue that will arise from self-checks concerns adequate communication with the health ministry, as scientists fear that a person who tests themselves may fail to inform authorities and subsequently refrain from isolating.
To evade the problems that will inevitably arise from self-checks in an already tense stage of the pandemic, the health ministry won’t be recognising results of self-checks, Kathimerini Cyprus reported, citing an informed source.
In fact, Cyprus is just one among a handful of countries that has introduced three security stages regarding the validity of the result of rapid antigen tests. The first concerns the selection of the most appropriate tests through tenders. The second stage is ensuring the test is performed by specially trained professionals and accredited laboratories and the third stage is the confirmation of positive rapid test results by the PCR method.
Pharmacies not backing down
Asked to comment on reports of pharmacies attempting to secure a supply of rapid antigen tests, head of the Pancyprian Pharmaceutical Association, Eleni Piera-Isseyiek, said she wasn’t aware of such behaviours by any members of the Association. She did however tell Kathimerini Cyprus that pharmacies in other European countries are utilised as sampling locations due to their accessibility to the public.
Piera-Isseyiek said a positive development would be the provision of specialised training to pharmacists so would allow them to test the public, something that would also contribute to a decongestion of the long queues being observed recently outside private laboratories.