Antigen tests to roll out at SA points of entry

As part of South Africa’s Covid-19 testing drive, antigen tests for SARS-CoV-2 detection will immediately be rolled out to all ports of entry.

The rollout of these tests goes hand-in-hand with the level 1 travel regulations, which require that all travellers who arrive in SA without a certified of proof that they have tested negative for the virus (not older than 72 hours) must be tested before entering the country.

Antigen tests which are different from antibody tests are immunoassays that detect the presence of a specific viral antigen, which implies current viral infection.

One of the antigen test’s major advantages is that unlike with the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, the results are available in 15 minutes.

So, instead of quarantining travellers until their test results are available, cabinet resolved to implement testing at points of entry using the antigen test.

The government says that it is aware that some neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, do not have the capacity to conduct PCR testing for all of its travellers arriving in South Africa.

Antigen testing will be able to help manage the influx of travellers without have not been tested.

Another advantage of the Antigen tests is the cost - at a fee of about R150 - R170; antigen tests cost much less than PCR tests.

Travellers who need to be tested will need to foot the bill of antigen test, not South Africa or their country of origin. This means that anyone needing a test must be able to pay at the point of entry.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently approved the use of rapid antigen tests to further aid screening and surveillance in the community where a rapid result is needed at a low cost.

Supply of antigen tests

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for two companies to supply these antigen tests which will initially be used only at ports of entry.

Over time, more of these tests will become available from other suppliers and tests will be rolled out in community surveillance programmes.

Antigen test

The antigen test is done in the same was as a PCR test (a procedure that starts by reaching deep inside a person's nose and throat to extract mucus), so samples must be collected by a professional and not by an individual at home.

The PCR test is still the best option though since it has much higher sensitivity and specificity than the rapid antigen test.

 The procedure at port of entry

If a traveller arrives at a port of entry without their certified negative PCR test, here’s what will happen:

  • The traveller will be screened for signs and symptoms on arrival.
  • If they are unable to produce a certified negative PCR test result, the traveller will be sent to a testing facility at the port of entry.
  • A staff member from NHLS will collect the samples and conduct the test immediately.
  • Travellers must be prepared to pay out of pocket (approximately ZAR150 - 170) and claim the fees from their health insurance service provider if applicable.
  • Should they test 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 for Covid-19, he/ she will be placed under quarantine at a designated facility and 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 during the trip, will also be tracked and traced.

Note that those 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.

“Government is embarking on a commitment to a path of socio-economic recovery and growth, and it reminds the citizens and visitors that all must share in the responsibility of mitigating the effects of COVID-19,” the government said in a statement.

“Government wishes to reassure all affected people that these measures are put in place not to penalize anyone but to protect each other from the devastations of COVID-19.

“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,” the government said.

Both South African citizens and visitors to the country are encouraged to download the Covid-Alert App during their stay. 

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