Rapid antibody detection tests are now being used at Tallinn Aiport and the Port of Tallinn to check whether passengers returning to Estonia have previously had the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The government ordered testing to start yesterday despite health officials' and doctors' doubts the tests are reliable enough to provide a clear picture. The tests, which number 50,000, were donated by businessmen Tarvi Olbrei, Alari Aho and Parvel Pruunsild and have an estimated 80 percent success rate. Pruunsild is a major supporter of political party Isamaa.
The government ordered the Health Board to use the tests for public testing last week against the Health Board's advice. It is not mandatory to take the test and works by pricking a finger and testing a blood sample. It is likely to give both false positives and negatives.
Rapid tests measure two types of antibodies. IgG antibodies do not appear until three weeks after illness, IgM antibodies on the eighth day after the onset of symptoms.
Jelena Tomasova, Deputy Director General of the Health Board, said if IgM antibodies were detected the person would then be advised to undergo another test, which would then need to be checked by the laboratory, to confirm the result.
As early as April, laboratory doctors questioned the necessity of rapid tests, and according to Marge Kütt, the head of the laboratory of the North Estonia Medical Center, so far there has been no reason to change their position.
"As a rule, this virus is not present in the blood at all, but especially in the respiratory tract and can be in the urine and faeces in extreme cases, but we do not detect the virus directly in the blood, only the antibody is detected in the blood. So this test does not answer the question," said Kütt.
Irja Lutsar, Professor of Virology, Head of the Scientific Council for the Control of COVID-19, said rapid tests are not necissary. "There are probably some places where we can take advantage of these tests. I'd feel very bad if these tests are just thrown away," Lutsar said.
According to Lutsar, the tests are primarily intended to be taken by those already displaying coronavirus symptoms.
A total of 150 tests were performed at the port and airport on Monday and there were no positive results.
Editor: Helen Wright