Monday

6th Apr 2020

Coronavirus

EU countries unable to follow WHO's call for mass testing

  • WHO said earlier this week that the cost of the test depends on the country - but ranges from €25 to €55 (Photo: TNS Sofres)

Finland queried on Friday (20 March) the World Health Organization's (WHO) call to massively increase coronavirus tests, after the Nordic country run out of testing capacity this week.

"We don't understand the WHO's instructions for testing. We can't fully remove the disease from the world anymore. If someone claims that, they don't understand pandemics," Finland's head of health security, Mika Salminen, told the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.

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The director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in New York earlier this week that "we cannot fight this pandemic if we don't know who is infected," calling on countries to test as much as possible.

Testing and traceability strategies "must be the backbone of the response in every country," he warned.

However, according to Salminen, "those who can be sick at home, won't benefit from testing".

"We are not doing as many tests as possible but rather when needed," he added.

As many other European countries face testing shortages, some health authorities across the continent believe that those who do not show any symptoms have no reason to be tested - even if they have been in contact with an infected person.

However, South Korea's experience has shown that diagnostic capacity and contact traceability are essential to minimise the spread of the virus.

With the capacity to test 15,000 people a day, over 316,600 people have been tested in South Korea as of Friday - which amounts to more than 6,150 tests per million inhabitants.

The European way

Italy, which is the most affected country in the European Union, has tested about 150,000 people, according to a report from the Italian ministry of health.

However, Italian authorities, along with researchers at the University of Padua and the Red Cross tested all residents of Vò - a town of 3,000 inhabitants near Venice - in a pilot project that shows the effectiveness to stop the further spread of coronavirus within 14 days.

In Spain, health authorities recently warned that the country does not have enough resources to diagnose all cases of the novel coronavirus and only 30,000 tests have been done since the beginning of the crisis, Spanish newspaper El País reported.

While France said that it can carry out just 2,500 tests a day with prioritisation for healthcare professionals and those who are very sick.

Germany can conduct about 12,000 tests daily, according to the German national association of statutory health insurance physicians.

This could explain why Germany presents the lowest mortality rate among the countries that are most affected by the epidemic - at 0.3 percent compared to Italy's 7.9 percent.

Although the UK is currently doing 4,000 tests per day, the country is considering to increase this figure to 25,000 a day, British prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday.

Poland recently said that about 1,500 test are being done daily, although the country expects to receive 10,000 test kits from China to increase its capacity.

'More costly to be sick'

Earlier this week, China said it will provide 50,000 testing kits to Europe, as well as protective equipment.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of countries in Europe, such as Germany and Spain, are deploying drive-through testing sites - an option that has helped South Korea to carry out tests faster and better.

A shortage in coronavirus testing kits has been reported worldwide, with many people being denied to have a diagnosis - while the list of famous and powerful people tested keeps growing every day.

WHO said earlier this week that the cost of the test depends on the country, but ranges between €25€ and €55.

"Some countries have to be economical and efficient in using it. It's not cheap, but it's more costly to be sick," said Dorit Nitzan, European coordinator of health emergencies at WHO.

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