The testing change that could help prevent Covid lockdowns

·News Reporter
·3-min read

There are growing calls for state governments to roll out rapid antigen testing to further protect frontline workers, allow certain workforces to continue their roles amid Covid-19 restrictions and prevent prolonged lockdowns.

Among the latest tightening of restrictions as NSW's stubborn Delta outbreak refuses to go down is a ban on construction workers while all non-essential workers in three western local government areas cannot leave their respective areas.

The move has forced 250,000 tradies to down tools which will in turn cost the state's economy $700 million. 

On Tuesday, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said workplaces continued to fuel the spread of the virus.

Healthcare workers face regular PCR testing but rapid testing could provide another layer of protection, experts say. Source: Getty
Healthcare workers face regular PCR testing but rapid testing could provide another layer of protection, experts say. Source: Getty

Dr Norman Swan, the ABC's medical expert and face of the public broadcaster's Covid-19 coverage, praised the benefits of introducing rapid antigen testing in workers that can produce a result in no more than 30 minutes and as little as 10.

While they are less accurate, they can prove vital in the early stages of infection when viral load is at its highest and offer a considerably faster result than PCR tests which can take up to 72 hours to be processed by NSW Health as record numbers come forward for testing.

"In people like frontline workers, police, teachers, healthcare workers and others... you use it quickly [and] the utility of getting it back in 30 minutes versus a small error rate is worth it," he told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday.

Rapid antigen tests are being trialled in southwest Sydney. Source: Getty, file.
Rapid antigen tests are being trialled in southwest Sydney. Source: Getty, file.

Prior to the lockdown of Fairfield LGA, workers in the area needing to leave were instructed to get a Covid-19 test every three days, overwhelming testing sites in the area. 

Dr Swan said rapid testing would be a "useful adjunct" for such workers prior to leaving the area to give confidence the virus is not spreading further afield.

Calls for the tests date back to last year. 

In December, UNSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, a leading epidemiologist and World Health Organisation advisor, told Yahoo News Australia rapid testing should be rolled out for workers needing to leave the Northern Beaches amid its lockdown following the Avalon cluster.

Dr Swan said the tests can also be used for ticketed events such as football games where tests are performed on spectators prior to a match.  

Rapid antigen tests trialled in southwest Sydney

A trial involving the tests is currently underway at an aged care facility in southwest Sydney and is being hailed as a route out of lockdowns.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday he envisaged the tests to "play an important role" in the pandemic moving forward.

About 250,000 construction workers cannot work as part of tightened restrictions. Source: Getty
About 250,000 construction workers cannot work as part of tightened restrictions. Source: Getty

Specialist Emergency Physician Dr Ian Norton told the Nine network over the weekend he believed they can help curtail the spread of the virus.

"They are very effective at catching those super spreaders and we can be sure that, plus all of the other questions we have asked that day, they can help us keep that workplace safe," he said.

Dr Norton believes using them regularly on workers gives an added barrier of protection, identifying the threat at hand early before the virus spreads and ultimately preventing or reducing the length of lockdown. 

While there is an increased risk of false positive results meaning it would prove problematic to roll them out to the entire population, Professor McLaws told the ABC they are "absolutely perfect" for high-risk groups and in particular people with high viral loads.

While false positives can be cleared up with a PCR test, there is also a higher possibility of a false negative from those with a lower viral load which could prove problematic if used on a widespread scale. 

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting