HEALTH and Wellness Minister Dr Michael Darville.
Photo: Donavan McIntosh/Tribune staff
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
HEALTH Minister Dr Michael Darville said government hopes to spend no more than $40,000 to $50,000 per week on its pilot free COVID-19 testing programme in New Providence.
He said it is “difficult to come up with an exact figure because it is directly tied into a response from the general population”.
“Rapid antigen testing of asymptomatic individuals throughout New Providence is essential for individuals to know their COVID status,” he added.
“We believe that many in our community are very compliant and if they do have a positive test and are asymptomatic, that information will be forwarded to our contact tracers and the necessary isolation as well as quarantine programmes will be activated.”
Dr Darville said free antigen tests for asymptomatic people will be offered at multiple vaccination centres in New Providence “as part of (a) testing programme prior to the launch of the government’s free testing programme once the digital platform is completed and that we can finally marry once and for all free testing with contact tracing.”
The focus on antigen tests comes even though early indications suggest the tests – always less accurate than PCR tests – are even less accurate at detecting the Omicron variant.
Asked about this, infectious disease expert Dr Nikkiah Forbes said: “Yes, there is early information that the rapid antigen tests may be less likely and accurate to pick up COVID-19 cases from the Omicron strain and what does this translate into when we were looking at our practice and what we do is that if you are having symptoms and you have done a rapid antigen test and it is negative you should follow that up with a PCR test and we do have to be mindful of that and our technical team is looking closer at that to see if we will change any guidance.”
Meanwhile, Dr Cherita Moxey said some institutions are offering rapid antigen tests without authorisation from the Ministry of Health. It is not clear what enforcement measures are being undertaken to solve the problem.