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DGS “studies possibility of reducing validity period for PCR and antigen tests”

DGS health chiefs are said to be studying the possibility of reducing the validity period for PCR and antigen tests taken at pharmacies and testing centres due to the Omicron variant’s ‘rapid propagation’.

Says Expresso, the plan under consideration is to make PCR tests valid for only 48 hours (not the current 72) and antigen tests good for just 24 (instead of the current 48).

In case anyone reading this suddenly loses the desire to learn any more, there is a potential obstacle: “The new validity periods may not give sufficient time for laboratories and pharmacies to process the results”, explains Expresso. 

Put bluntly, a test could become ‘out of date’ before it was delivered to the person who took it.

Nonetheless, the government’s experts are pressing on undaunted – seemingly unaware of the ‘good news’ being reported internationally that Omicron “appears to be milder” than all previous strains of SARS-CoV-2 (click here).

This was hinted at right at the moment Omicron started hogging headlines (click here) – but no-one then seemed prepared to want to listen.

Now after weeks of ‘counting cases’ – and not seeing them translate into serious illness – the reality is a little harder to escape. 

But as we see in Portugal, specialists remain determined to take no risks with the health of the nation: they would rather mass-test at breakneck speed to try and ‘catch Omicron’ before it powers through a population that is already showing an 86.4% immunity to the virus (click here).

Virologist Paula Paixão tells Expresso “it makes absolute sense to cut down on test (validity) periods, “as the incubation period for this variant is much shorter”.

Miguel Castanho of the Institute of Molecular Medicine is also all for shorter test validity as it will “bring tighter control over chains of transmission, obliging people to take more tests”.

Nowhere in the article is the steady voice of Pedro Simas – also from the Institute of Molecular Medicine – who has said we would all be much better off to throttle back on testing, as Omicron is essentially benign, and in infecting people so easily, will power natural immunity (click here).

On the subject of natural immunity, again experts tend not to shout this from the rooftops, but it is, without doubt, “more robust” than any immunity conferred by any of the vaccines (click here) and here.

But, as we say, Pedro Simas and his steady voice is not in evidence in the story today. Today it is all about reducing the validity of tests essential for travel and certain social occasions. And to this end, the country is ordering, conducting and selling tests as if its very future depended on it.

Says Expresso, “up till January 3 pharmacies will receive four million boxes of rapid tests – 2.5 million being self-tests and 1.5 million being tests for professional use”.

Manuel Talhinhas of the association of pharmaceutical distributors adds that next week he expects delivery of  “almost as many tests as those sold between April and November this year”.

As of last week, Portugal was described as having exceeded 23 million tests for the new coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Between December 1-14, an average of 123,000 tests were taken each day.

The ‘period of containment’ coming into force from midnight will simply see more and more tests being performed, albeit vaccination centres are closing for December 24/ 25 and 26 and for New Year’s Eve and New Years Day.

And with more and more tests being taken, the likelihood is that more and more cases will be flagged (requiring people to go into periods of self-isolation) for a variant that is leaving most of its victims almost unaware that anything is wrong with them.

UPDATE: Since Expresso’s story started being shared, the DGS has sought to reduce the implied threat to test validity: it is simply “analysing data and evidence that has come in on the Omicron variant in a dynamic form over the last few days”. The health directorate “guarantees it will adapt recommendations whenever scientific evidence so justifies”, reports SIC.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com