The Department of Health will roll out antigen tests for SARS-CoV-2 detection to all ports of entry in South Africa with immediate effect.
In a statement on Thursday (8 October), the department said that the rollout is in line with the country’s new level 1 lockdown regulations which require that all travellers that arrive at a port of entry without a certified negative SARS-CoV-2 PCR test result must be tested at the point of entry before entering the country.
The advantage of the antigen test is that, unlike the PCR test, the results are available in 15 minutes, the department said.
“In consideration of the logistical complications that a point of entry PCR test poses and the additional mitigation measures in place, it was resolved by cabinet to implement testing at points of entry using the antigen test,” the department said.
“Government is also aware that some of our neighbouring countries, for example Lesotho, do not have the capacity to conduct PCR testing for all travellers destined for South Africa. Antigen testing will therefore enable the management of the influx of travellers without certified PCR tests timeously.”
An additional consideration was the cost-effectiveness – at a fee of between R150-R170, the antigen tests cost much less than PCR tests.
The cost of the antigen test shall be the responsibility of the traveller and not South Africa or their country of origin.
The World Health Organisation recently approved the use of rapid antigen tests as a point of care diagnostic for Covid-19 for screening and surveillance tool in the community where a rapid result is required at low cost.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for two companies to supply antigen tests, the Department of Health said.
“There is anticipation that more of these tests will become available from other suppliers. The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) will be procuring these tests initially for use at our ports of entry.
“In time, as more kits become available, these tests will be rolled out in community surveillance programmes.”
“The antigen test is conducted by collecting a sample from the naso-oropharyngeal area, in the same manner as a PCR test, and therefore sample collection must be done by a professional and cannot be done by an individual at home.”
The department added that the existing PCR test ‘remains the gold standard’, given that it has much higher sensitivity and specificity than the rapid antigen test.
“All are travellers implored to adhere to the regulations and ensure that, where possible, they complete processing their PCR tests not more than 72 hours prior to their departure or arrival at a port of entry in South Africa. This is how we can best protect each other as we travel around the world,” it said,
In the event of a traveller arriving at a port of entry without a certified negative PCR test, the department said that the following procedure will be followed;
- The traveller will be screened for signs and symptoms on arrival;
- Upon failure to produce a certified PCR test result, the traveller will be directed to a testing facility at the port of entry;
- A staff member from the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) will collect the samples and conduct the test immediately;
- The cost shall be borne by the traveller and the NHLS shall be remunerated upon testing. Travellers must be prepared to pay out of pocket and claim the fees from their health insurance service provider;
- If the traveller tests negative, he/ she will be allowed to proceed through the port of entry provided they have been cleared of red flags at the screening phase;
- If the traveller tests positive he/ she will be required to quarantine at a facility designated by that particular port of entry. They will not be permitted to travel across provinces. Contacts of a traveller testing positive at the point of entry, including those who were in proximity of the traveller within the conveyance, will also be tracked and traced;
- Travellers who arrive without a certified PCR test and who refuse to test at the port of entry will not be permitted entry into the republic and will be required to quarantine at a designated facility.
“Government remains committed to ensuring that South Africa does not suffer from a second wave that compels us to enforce hard lockdown conditions again,” Department of Health said.
It said that these measures are put in place not to penalize anyone but to protect each other from the devastations of Covid-19.
“For those travellers who will need to undergo the procedure outlined above, are requested to have patience and cordial interactions with the authorities that are tasked with enforcing the regulations.”