Saturday

10th Apr 2021

EU urges rollout of rapid coronavirus tests

  • Rapid tests can be less accurate than laboratory-performed diagnostic tests - but they offer results in 10-30 minutes (Photo: World Bank / Henitsoa Rafalia)

The European Commission on Wednesday (18 November) recommended a slew of anti-corona measures, urging member states scale up testing capacity, by increasing the use of rapid antigen tests, in order to help ease travel restrictions and prevent laboratory collapses.

While rapid tests can be less accurate than laboratory-performed diagnostic tests (PCR), they can offer results in 10-30 minutes, instead of days - useful for the detection of infections in large outbreaks or targeted population-wide investigations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The commission said rapid tests should be applied mostly on people already showing symptoms since there is "very limited data available regarding the performance of rapid antigen tests" on asymptomatic cases.

"Rapid antigen tests should be used within five days after the onset of symptoms or within seven days after exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 case," according to the commission's non-binding recommendation.

However, the commission also suggests testing all individuals, including those who are asymptomatic, in situations where more than 10 percent of tested people are expected to be positive.

The EU executive also urged national capitals to mutually recognise rapid test results and share testing strategies "with the aim of aligning them as much as possible".

Brussels is convinced that this approach could limit restrictions of free movement while contributing to the smooth functioning of the internal market in times of limited laboratory capacities.

However, many member states are still sceptical about rapid tests, including in relation to travel, according to an internal document.

"A large number of member states made clear that discussions on common minimum standards and criteria were premature, as more robust scientific evidence was still needed," reads the note prepared by the German government, which currently holds the EU Council presidency.

That is why the commission is advising member states to use only rapid tests that carry a CE-marking certificate (with at least 80-percent sensitivity and 97-percent specificity) in order to maximise the avoidance of false-negative and false-positive test results.

Sensitivity refers to how often a test correctly generates a positive result, while specificity refers to the ability to precisely detect those who are not infected.

"Antigen tests are a promising alternative as they are cheaper, faster and easier to administer. However, their reliability varies," a World Health Organization spokesperson told EUobserver.

Airlines want consistency

Meanwhile, airlines have been calling for a "European testing protocol" for travel, which relies on rapid antigen tests to support safe travelling and restore the confidence of passengers. This is currently under development.

"For aviation, in particular, surviving this unprecedented crisis will only be possible through close cooperation and a harmonisation of measures at European level," the Association Airlines for Europe said in a statement.

They are also demanding the duration of quarantines to be harmonised throughout Europe, and be reduced to the minimum number of days.

So far, EU capitals have not even been able to agree on how long the quarantine period should be, with differences in the length of isolation (from seven to 14 days), and in the criteria to lift such measures.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control currently recommends 14 days of quarantine, although a negative PCR test at day 10 can be used to stop quarantine periods earlier.

However, the WHO warns that available scientific data indicate that the mean incubation period for the coronavirus is between five to six days, with an upper limit of 14 days.

The commission recommendation comes ahead of the virtual meeting of EU leaders on Thursday on the EU response to the Covid-19 pandemic, where they aim to enhance coordination.

EU seeks more health powers after dubious Covid-19 response

After the lack of coordination evidenced during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission put forward a set of proposals to strengthen the preparedness of members states in cross-border health threats.

EU seeks new deal for '90% effective' Covid-19 vaccine

After an experimental Covid-19 vaccine developed by the American giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech was found to be more than 90 percent effective, the EU announced that it will sign a contract for up to 300 million doses.

Slovakia: second weekend of nationwide Covid-19 testing

Slovak citizens are required to present their negative "Covid certificate" - which prime minister Igor Matovic tagged their "ticket to freedom" - at their work place, shops and other public spaces or even when casually checked by police when outdoors.

EU Commission's Covid-19 expert offers bleak outlook

Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot offered a bleak assessment of available options to rid the world of the pandemic caused by Covid-19. Aside from wishful thinking, millions of possible deaths, and crushing poverty, a vaccine appears to be the only solution.

Hundreds of thousands log on for 'spare' Belgian vaccinations

On Tuesday Belgium launched a new website, QVAX, where people who are not yet vaccinated or have no appointment to be vaccinated, could register in case 'spare' appointments come up. Brussels will start it's own system mid-April.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

EU failing on tracking new Covid-19 variants, MEPs told

The majority of countries in Europe are falling short on tracking coronavirus variants. Only seven member states have increased genome sequencing to the level recommended for detecting and monitoring the emergence and dominance of these strains.

Stakeholder

Vaccine certificates are a way to reopen Europe, not close it

A common vaccination certificate – instead of 27 individual initiatives - can form part of the solution, together with other sanitary measures already in place, to resume travel and tourism and reduce current travel restrictions.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us