Rapid tests not likely to hit store shelves

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A negative COVID-19 rapid test. Source: Urmet Kook/ERR

Minister of Health and Labour Tanel Kiik (Center) does not consider it possible to allow antigen rapid tests, able to detect an infectious person in 15 minutes, into the general market. Kiik says rapid tests often show false negative results, which could bring a wave of infections.

Rapid tests are relatively cheap and give a result in minutes with countries such as Austria having allowed them to be sold on the general market. Tanel Kiik however said trustworthiness, accuracy and professionalism need to be leaned on in healthcare, factors which rapid testing at home can not be confirmed.

"In some cases, these antigen rapid tests show the disease only when it has reached serious symptoms. It does not show it when the person has just been infected or when they have light symptoms. Meaning, there is a strong enough danger for false negative results. Especially if we are talking about testing done at home," Kiik told ERR.

The health minister added that the aforementioned justifications are the main considerations for why Estonia has not began selling rapid tests, a similar pattern for other EU countries. "While we are shown individual examples of someone prioritizing one thing or another, these are individual countries, there are 27 members of the EU," Kiik said.

Estonia prefers to conduct PCR-testing, according to Kiik, because they are more accurate, find positive cases more rapidly and do not give as many false negatives. "Meaning, they do not give people false misconceptions and false confidence that they are healthy and can go to work, school or meet up with friends and then infect dozens of people," the minister noted.

At the same time, Kiik said there are rapid tests used in some places, but they are meant to be used by healthcare institutions themselves. "These are done in care homes, they can be used in education in case of larger outbreaks to localize and identify infections. But later, the rest of the negative people must be re-tested with PCR-tests, which take a bit longer," the minister said.

The Health Board does not rule out rapid test discussion

Health Board chief Üllar Lanno said the board is prepared to discuss the topic of rapid tests with different parties, but the state's priority should not be to conduct more testing, but rather reduce infections. He also finds that testing at home could be dangerous.

"There is a difference between tests and testing. A test is what goes into body cavities through the nose. And every material has a moment of breaking, whether it be from technical productivity, scrap or anything else. And if that thing, which is inserted into the nose, breaks due to false handling, it could end up in the respiratory tract. And that would bring a much more serious health danger than the goal of testing," Lanno explained.

At the same time, the Health Board chief pointed out that Austria has allowed rapid tests to be sold and the discussion could be had in Estonia.

"There are tests meant to be used professionally and it is why they belong in that category. And there are some tests, which some EU countries like Austria have used, that discussion can certainly continue. Discussion is necessary and the Health Board is prepared to discuss this topic with the different parties, but the main goal today should not be to test this much. Rather that we would not have this many people with the condition and that we ourselves would not carry this disease," Lanno said.

Since March of 2020, when the coronavirus was first discovered in Estonia, there have been 953,734 tests conducted, uncovering a total 69,193 cases - 7.3 percent of all tests.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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