Coronavirus testing – A first-hand account of what happened

A MyBroadband reader recently got sick – with symptoms including a cough, a sore throat, fatigue, and a high temperature – after returning to Johannesburg from a trip to Cape Town.

Having travelled through two international airports, the reader was concerned that he may have been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

He self-isolated after his symptoms emerged and contacted his local COVID-19 hotline to be tested.

The medical personnel responded and provided him with requests for information and documents which he was asked to complete.

This information and documentation were then sent to his doctor. A few hours later, he received a call from the doctor’s office with two questions:

  • Have you been out of the country in the past two weeks?
  • Have you knowingly been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus?

Having answered no to both questions, he was told that he didn’t qualify to be tested.

He is currently recovering well and does not think he has the coronavirus. However, without having been tested, uncertainty and concerns remain.

The screenshots below show a part of the form which he had to complete to get tested.

Concerns about testing criteria

While it is understandable that coronavirus testing must be restricted because of resource constraints, the testing criteria has raised concerns about under-reporting of community-based infections.

Wits School of Governance chair Professor Alex van den Heever said the bias in the testing process is creating a problem.

“They’ve been turning people away if they didn’t fit the criteria. I believe that is a serious error of judgement,” he said.

“We are essentially turning a blind eye to possible community-based infections,” van den Heever said.

Van den Heever said if we start seeing community-based infections of 100 to 200 per day, we would “probably have to escalate the prevention strategy”.

Pro-active testing needed

The World Health Organisation’s top emergency expert Dr Mike Ryan has said national lockdowns are not enough to effectively fight the coronavirus.

“What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus, and isolate them, find their contacts, and isolate them,” he said.

This echoes the call from the World Health Organisation for all countries to test each suspected case of the virus.

He highlighted that a fast reaction is needed to fight the virus and cautioned against trying to be “right before you move”.

“Speed trumps perfection. Perfection is the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management,” he said.

“The problem in society we have at the moment is everyone is afraid of making a mistake – everyone is afraid of the consequence of error. But the greatest error is not to move.”

Ryan added that strong public health measures must be put in place to ensure the virus outbreak does not continue after restrictions are lifted.

Now read: National lockdown in South Africa – A balancing act between health and the economy

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Coronavirus testing – A first-hand account of what happened