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Covid-19 tests could not be delivered

By Edward West Time of article published May 11, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Covid-19 testing by the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) was challenging last week as test kits that were ordered could not be delivered due to logistical issues outside the control of the NHLS, a spokesperson said late Friday.

Alarm bells have rung in the past few days about the low levels of CovId-19 testing amid the continuing rise in the incidence disease, particularly in the Western Cape where its provincial government plans to contract private test facilities as state facilities don’t have sufficient capacity, and because people countrywide have to wait up to seven days for test results, raising the risk of them spreading the virus.

The NHLS said however it had experienced further delays in the transport of testing supply kits, due to the lockdown, flight cancellations and long weekends.

“”Due to global supply shortages, suppliers did not have enough stock to supply the NHLS with the numbers it had ordered. Coupled with a massive surge in testing from certain provinces, this meant that the demand exceeded the supply,” the NHLS said in response to Business Report questions.

“The NHLS has put steps in place to meet  the demand,” it said.
It was working with academic partners and private laboratories to  conduct tests as quickly as possible and over the last two days (to Friday), some supplies had arrived and had 
been distributed to our laboratories.

“”We are working with suppliers to increase the numbers of supplies and ensure a steady flow of supplies to the country. The NHLS is working closely with the National Department of Health to coordinate solutions and to sort out these challenges,” the NHLS said.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said Friday said he had written to President Cyril Ramaphosa regarding the backlogs being experienced in the NHLS.  Western Cape Minister of Health, Nomafrench Mbombo had also sent a letter to national Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

 “Over the past two weeks, the Western Cape has more than doubled the total number of tests conducted as part of a targeted testing strategy aimed at identifying pockets of infection. We understand that as the Western Cape and other provinces have increased their focus on testing, this has placed strain on the NHLS and their resources,” Winde said.

Among the problems being experienced was a shortage of reagents and test kits, he said,

Policy decisions, such as a Department of Labour decision that a person must test negative before being allowed to return to work, and other government departments requesting testing for their staff members, had compounded the problem, Winde said,

He said that while the department had approached private sector testing laboratories, these were  also under severe pressure and “do not offer any realistic short term relief.”
Democratic Alliance shadow MEC Jack Bloom said Friday many Covid-19 infection figures in Gauteng could be a week old, raising the spectre of people without symptoms infecting others instead of being quarantined.  

“Private laboratories generally provide results within 24 hours, but there seems to be a capacity problem with the public tests as I know of cases where the result took as long as seven days,” said Bloom in a telephone interview.

“If public testing cannot cope, then private tests should be commissioned by the provincial government as is being done in the Western Cape,” he said.

It is widely understood that large scale testing is critical to help flatten the rising curve of the Covid-10 infection rate, which then also alleviates pressure of the disease on the 
health system. The benefits of flattening the curve might be lost if results are not provided speedily.

Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPs) said in a research note on Friday the national and provincial government websites give divergent daily testing figures.
Also, provincial reports on testing appear to be incomplete for the most recent days.

“The available figures suggest that from April 21 to May 1, as the number of cases surged in the Western Cape, its share in total testing was only slightly higher than its share in the population. In this period, the Western Cape conducted almost 25 000 tests, or 17 percent of the total.  In contrast, from April 6 to April 21, it accounted for 22 percent of all tests nationally,” the research showed.

Public-sector testing had expanded rapidly in the second half of April, which in part explained the decline in the share of the Western Cape in total testing in this period, the research found.

“That said, the growth of almost 10 percent in reported new cases daily in the Western Cape cannot be explained only by expanded and more targeted testing. After all, the other provinces also expanded screening and testing in this period, but they do not show the same  acceleration in cases,” the TIPS research found.


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