File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Western Cape coronavirus testing backlog reduced significantly

By IOL reporter Time of article published Jun 11, 2020

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Cape Town – The coronavirus testing backlog has been significantly reduced in the Western Cape since May 28.

National Health Services Laboratory (NHLS) chief executive Kamy Chetty told MPs yesterday the Western Cape reduced its testing backlog – those samples that are older than three days from the date of registration at the laboratory – from 15 000 on May 28 to 3 727 on Wednesday. 

The Western Cape government's Covid-19 testing strategy was changed due to the huge backlog of tests, forcing them to prioritise people over the age of 55, those with Covid-19 symptoms and healthcare workers. At the peak of the backlog, results could take as long as two weeks. 

Chetty said they now prioritised testing nationally according to medical need, high-risk individuals, critical front-line workers and essential service personnel. By Wednesday, the national backlog had been reduced to about 63 000, MPs heard.

“We know what happens in the Western Cape now is going to impact other provinces. As a result, we are giving them extra kits in order to reduce backlogs. 

"These are the high-throughput kits, but we are still making sure that we cover other provinces,” said Chetty.

Chetty said the backlog problems started last month when the number of samples the NHLS was getting on a daily basis increased rapidly and the suppliers started to run out of kits.

The NHLS increased the number of tests conducted from 94 203 in April to 232 000 in May. It handled 105 023 tests in the first week of June alone.

Gauteng had the biggest backlog with 23 000, followed by the Eastern Cape with 21 953 and KwaZulu-Natal with 18 000.

“We still have a challenge in the Gauteng province and we are still trying to sort out the backlog. The other priority province is the Eastern Cape, where we brought in a whole lot of new equipment in order to sort the challenges in the province.”

She said they were conducting more than 15 000 tests per day on average and were building up to a capacity of at least 30 000 a day.

The delays, driven by a shortage of diagnostic material, has raised concerns that the current figures for Covid-19 infections in South Africa may not reflect the full extent of the epidemic.

Chetty said the bottleneck in the system arose because of shortages globally of extraction kits used in the diagnostics process. 

"It has been a very difficult period because the number of samples we were getting was increasingly rapidly but it was the same time that suppliers were running out of supplies."

Chetty said the service has been able to work through its backlogs because it has diversified extraction methods and materials, allowing it to buy up more supplies.


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