As of tomorrow, South Africans can walk into private laboratories for a coronavirus test without it being done via the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) and doctors.
Lancet Laboratories’ clinical virologist Prof Eftyhia Vardas said that with the increasing number of countries that have sustained person-to-person spread of the coronavirus — named SARS-CoV-2 — and continued international travel, demands for the testing was increasing.
“Lancet Laboratories will be offering testing for SARS-CoV-2 from March 9. Epidemiological information will still be collected on all patients and all results will be shared with the NICD, which remains the reference centre for this epidemic,” she said.
The test would cost about R1,200.
The current laboratory diagnostic tests for the virus are done by using a technique called polymerase chain reaction or PCR.
Vardas said PCR looked for portions of specific viral genetic material.
“If it does not find these fragments, the result is negative. If the viral genetic material fragments are identified, they will produce a signal that is interpreted as positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
“Another respiratory PCR for other viral infections may be requested in some instances by a referring doctor to exclude influenza and other common respiratory viruses, and this will have an additional cost of about R1,200.”
Ampath spokesperson Ragel Swartz said the facility could not comment and Lab24 did not respond to queries.
NICD spokesperson Sinenhlanhla Jimoh said the institute had deployed more workers to the emergency operations centre after a South African tested positive for the virus.
Jimoh said that while there had been an increase in the number of testings and screenings for the virus in the past few days, these were not “significantly high”.
To date, we have tested 200 people — 144 were patients under investigation and one tested positive
Dr Sibongile Walaza, NICD medical epidemiologist
NICD medical epidemiologist Dr Sibongile Walaza said: “To date, we have tested 200 people — 144 were patients under investigation and one tested positive.”
A patient under investigation is someone who meets the criteria for testing, particularly those who have travelled to high-risk areas or are experiencing the symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Jimoh said that once a patient under investigation had tested negative, they were released after being briefed on the best ways to avoid spreading respiratory diseases.
Walaza said the World Health Organisation had still not confirmed exactly how long the virus could survive on surfaces.
“Studies suggest that coronaviruses, including preliminary information on the Covid-19 virus, may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions, for example the type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment,” Walaza said.