Cape Town – South Africa is in the grip of the Covid-19 third wave, with stricter lockdown regulations implemented on Sunday. But if you are 45 years old and younger, unemployed, or employed with no medical aid and have little cash at your disposal, there is no longer a chance of getting a Covid test for free at a public facility in the Western Cape to quickly put any concerns to rest – unless you have a comorbidity or need hospitalisation.
Since last week Tuesday, the Western Cape Health Department no longer tests people under-45 at public facilities, except for any person requiring hospitalisation and all residents with comorbidities.
When asked why this is the case, Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever told IOL on Tuesday: ’’The Western Cape Department of Health has limited testing at public healthcare facilities, in order to prevent major backlogs developing.
’’This was a key lesson learnt during the first and second wave, and enabled quick turn-around times in getting test results back to high-risk patients. This helps saves lives, as a quick diagnosis helps ensure careful monitoring and care to those who might need hospitalisation.
’’Currently, residents under the age of 45 without comorbidities will not be able to get tested at public health facilities, but can still be tested at private facilities.’’
One employed Capetonian, who is battling with what she believes to be strong Covid symptoms and has no money for a private test, says her only recourse is to stock up with vitamins and the other essentials from a pharmacy, then self-isolating until the symptoms have passed – while the doubt persists whether she has Covid or not.
’’I don’t have a medical aid and I am unable to pay a private lab for a Covid test. Clicks said R800, Dischem R850, which is money that I don’t have,’’ she told IOL.
’’I went to my uncle’s funeral in what I afterwards found out was a hotspot 11 days ago. Last Wednesday, my cousin told me that she tested positive and told everyone she was in contact with to have themselves tested. Five other people who were present tested positive for Covid after the funeral.
’’I wasn’t feeling great at that point but it could also still be the flu. But all my symptoms are getting worse. I can still taste and smell, but all my other symptoms seem en pointe for Covid.
’’I phoned the national Covid hotline this morning and I explained my situation to the guy I spoke to. He said I needed to go for a test because of the number of other people I interacted with that have Covid.
’’I told him I have no medical aid. He said that’s fine and put me through to the provincial health department to tell me where the test sites are. That was 5 o’clock this morning when they weren’t open yet. I phoned at 8. The lady asked me a few questions and my age. When I said I was 42, she said since last week Tuesday they don’ test under-45s at all.
’’She said I must phone Clicks and ask how their testing works. I could even opt for the rapid antigen test at Dischem.’’
Asked whether she believed this was an effective way of flattening the curve, she said: ’’How do they makes this decision amid the third wave? How may other people are walking around with Covid that can’t afford to be tested? If they can’t deal with the volume, then they need to figure something out.
’’I don’t qualify for the vaccine yet, but at least I am still privileged enough to got the pharmacy and stock up on what everyone has been telling me I need; all the vitamins and the this and the that. I live alone so I don’t need to come into contact with anyone until I feel better.
The head of the provincial Department of Health, Dr Keith Cloete, said at the beginning of the month that due to the testing backlog, it took between seven and 12 days to get results. By then, the person who was tested could be close to recovery.
"We've had the reality of people going through all of this... and by the time they get their test results back, it's been 14 days already," said Cloete, adding that the national government was already asking anyone who has symptoms to self-isolate and stay away from work.
’’We want to reduce mortality. Our focus turns away from people least at risk. We want to preserve tests for where it makes the most difference.’’
If you think you might have contracted the virus, you can call the National Institute for Communicable Diseases helpline (0800 029 999) and you will be advised on possible testing facilities.
However, testing is not routinely done unless testing is indicated by a health professional, therefore one would need to be assessed by your medical practitioner in order to qualify for testing.