Could 15-minute COVID test return us to an old ‘normal’?

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A 15-minute COVID test is being hailed as a “game-changer”.

The NowCheck COVID-19 Antigen Test, which is in use in the US and Britain and picks up infections by detecting the protein on the coronavirus, has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Dr Peter Walsh, an adviser to the federal government throughout the pandemic, described the antigen test as a “game-changer” that could be particularly useful in high-risk settings such as aged care, meatworks, hospitals and schools to help detect the coronavirus swiftly.

“It’s a game-changer in the testing world,” he said. “It takes 15 minutes to complete, requires no additional equipment, can be done anywhere, and it picks up asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID results.”

The Age reports that an independent Brazilian study concluded that the sensitivity of the NowCheck test was 94.3 per cent. The study was conducted by FIND – a non-profit diagnostics centre that has previously worked with the World Health Organization.

In contrast, the gold standard COVID-19 test, which has a 99 per cent success rate, involves collecting nasal and throat swabs – widely described as “uncomfortable”. Those tested then need to isolate for two to three days after the test.

The Doherty Institute is cautious about the widespread use of the antigen test, saying its effectiveness has not been proven in the Australian context.

“They [the tests] may well have a role to play, but the work is still ongoing,” said professor of microbiology Deborah Williamson. “We don’t have any preliminary findings of studies yet.”

Prof. Williamson says the rapid tests could complement the nasal and throat swabs.

“We are, out of sheer necessity in Victoria, at the vanguard of looking at some of these innovative testing approaches, and looking seriously at some of these point-of-care [rapid] tests, which hopefully will enable society to get moving again,” Prof. Williamson said.

A drop in the number of people seeking tests has alarmed authorities in New South Wales.

Deakin University’s chair of epidemiology, Catherine Bennett, says large numbers of tests were a “necessary overkill”, even if few new cases were being found, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging people to continue to present for testing at the slightest sign of symptoms.

Professor Bennett said that, ideally, 100 per cent of people with symptoms would get tested.

However, data from Flutracking showed that only 45 per cent of people with fevers and coughs last week had sought a coronavirus test.

Premier Daniel Andrews is also urging all Victorians to continue to present for testing, even if symptoms are very slight. With only 12 new infections in Victoria in the past 24 hours, taking the all-important 14-day average to 26.7, he is expected to outline a cautious relaxation to some restrictions in Melbourne on Sunday. He said this morning that any announcement would not be momentous but a continuation of “steady and safe steps”.

Would a widely available 15-minute test give you more confidence to get back to some sort of normal life?

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Written by Janelle Ward


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