Self-tests available in pharmacies from today: how does it work?

Self-tests available in pharmacies from today: how does it work?
Illustration image. Credit: Belga

Pharmacies in Belgium will start selling self-tests from today, in an effort to better identify coronavirus cases in the country's so-called "testing strategy 2.0."

Along with the regular PCR tests and rapid tests, self-tests are one of Belgium's so-called "three lines of defence" to help control the virus, on top of the regular existing measures such as keeping your distance and wearing a face mask.

Where can you get the self-tests?

For now, only pharmacies are authorised to sell them in Belgium.

Several people are also calling to make self-tests available in supermarkets, like in Germany, but that is not a good idea yet, according to Herman Goossens, chairman of the Testing Task Force.

"Self-tests are not candy," he said during a press conference presenting the new testing strategy. "Distributing them first via pharmacists gives us the chance to explain clearly how they should be used."

However, the pharmacists' association APB warned that the supply will be limited during the first few days.

"Do not go to the pharmacy at 9:00 in the morning," spokesperson Georges Verpraet said on VTM News on Monday, explaining that depending on the demand, it could take a few days or even weeks before all pharmacies are supplied.

"Distributors do everything they can to provide pharmacies with self-tests, but setting up such a logistical process takes time," said Verpraet.

However, pharmacists have heard good news from the manufacturers, which will be able to supply sufficient tests.

Are you allowed to buy several tests at the same time?

In the days since Belgium announced that pharmacies would be able to sell them, they saw an increase in demand, even before they were available.

The government has called on people not to start hoarding tests, but there will be no maximum number that one person is allowed to buy. According to Verpraet, pharmacists are perfectly capable of guaranteeing fair sales.

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How do you take such a rapid test?

This is how a self-test has to be taken, according to the instructions from self-test manufacturer Roche.

-  Wash your hands and blow your nose. Remove the swab from its sterile packaging. Only touch the stick when doing so.

-  Tilt your head back and insert the swab into your nostril, parallel to the roof of your mouth, about 2 cm into the nose until you feel resistance. Then rotate it four times for 15 seconds. Repeat in the other nostril. This is completely painless, at worst it feels a little ticklish.

-  Insert the swab into the tube containing the liquid. Squeeze the tube, and rotate it more than ten times. Continue to squeeze as you remove the swab from the tube. Put the cap on the tube.

-  Remove the test strip from the packaging and place it on a flat surface. Apply four drops onto the round compartment. "You can still continue with the test if you have accidentally applied 5 drops," says the manufacturer's website.

-  Your test result will be available between 15 and 30 minutes after you have applied the drops. After 30 minutes, the test result may be incorrect.

-  If you only see a dash at 'C' - the control line - then the test is negative. If you see two dashes, the test is positive. If there is no dash at 'C', the test is invalid.

According to Goossens, taking the test is "actually child's play," but some people have trouble reading the result because the dash is sometimes not quite clear. "When in doubt, a PCR test should provide certainty.”

What should you do if the result is positive?

After a positive test result you should contact your GP or a testing centre. Not only to pass on the result, but to make an appointment for a conventional PCR test.

In Belgium's testing strategy, the PCR test remains "the gold standard" as it is the most reliable one. The reliability of the rapid tests is about 80%.

Additionally, PCR tests are used to activate the contact investigation, according to Roel Van Giel of the Domus Medica GP Association.

What happens if the result is negative? Can you behave differently?

Not at all, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.

"We do not see these self-tests as an entry ticket to certain activities, they are a form of courtesy," he said during the press conference. "They can be used for those who want to pay a visit to their cuddle contact and want to take a test just to be sure. Or if, for example, someone needs to have contact with a high-risk person."

Those who have tested negative with a rapid test cannot regain their freedom yet, Goossens stressed as well.

"The tests are very accurate, but you could still test false-negative, still have Covid-19 and be infectious," he said. "These tests will never replace the measures. That will be a difficult message."

How much do self-tests cost?

Belgium has currently approved two tests, from producers Roche and Biosynex. The price is expected to be around €7 to €8, depending on the test.

“For people who are struggling financially, we will make the tests refundable through health insurance,” Vandenbroucke said.

“For each member of the family, they can buy a maximum of two tests per week at the pharmacy," he said, adding that the copayment for people with an increased allowance is €1. "For other people, there will be no refund."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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