Jan 20, 2022 News
Kaieteur News – Government’s decision to restrict persons from getting the PCR COVID-19 test at public health facilities has been criticised as backward by the opposition, even as the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has called on countries to ramp up testing, especially now that there has been a surge in the virus.
The Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that it will only provide COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing for persons who have been hospitalised, and those who have been in environments susceptible to COVID-19 infection. This was revealed Tuesday by Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, M.P, during his daily COVID-19 update.
Dr Anthony explained that the ministry, however, will instead be offering rapid antigen tests to persons who have symptoms. “With symptoms and doing the rapid test…the test results would generally be that you’re positive if you have COVID…so we want those persons with symptoms, they can do their rapid tests and we’ll determine their status,” he explained.
With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, persons have been flocking testing sites across the country, over the last few weeks. Dr Anthony stated, this was because persons were not observing the window period before testing. “If you have been exposed, you can’t come right away to be tested…there’s a window period that you have to wait and most people are not observing that. So, what is happening, is people are coming and flocking to the site and when they get back their results, obviously it’s going to be negative because you are within that window period when the test is not going to work,” the minister highlighted.
According to the ministry’s most recent guidelines, an individual who has come into contact with a person infected with COVID-19 “should be placed on self-quarantine and testing done five days from the date he/she was in contact with the confirmed case.”
Dr Anthony reiterated that if persons properly observe these guidelines, there would no longer be large crowds gathered to be tested on a daily basis. As a result, the minister disclosed that certain criteria must be met for persons to get a PCR test. “The ministry is now going to do PCR only for people who are hospitalised or persons who would come to one of the A&E or outpatient clinics and the clinicians there decide that this person would need a PCR…or if somebody is working in a high-risk setting and requires a PCR, then we will do [that test],” he noted. Recent studies have shown that rapid antigen tests have proven to be 78 per cent effective when confirming cases of COVID-19, and 98.7 per cent effective in ruling out infection in persons who did not have COVID-19.
However, the main opposition, APNU+AFC Coalition has knocked the decision, saying it confirms what they have been saying all along, that “the PPP administration has no plan in place to effectively tackle and reduce the spread of COVID-19.” According to the opposition this move by the Government is two- fold; one to allow for the reduction in reporting of the number of positive cases we have seen daily. The coalition said the public will no longer be in receipt of the true spread of COVID- 19 in the nation. Secondly the decision will force persons away from public facilities to private centers where they will have to pay to be tested. “The current rapid spread of the Coronavirus is a direct result of the Government’s incompetence and total disregard for the health and safety of citizens by those in office. Upon learning that the Omicron variant was in Brazil and the Caribbean, no efforts were made to prevent its entry into Guyana. The Brazil to Guyana crossing remains open with little to no COVID-19 measures in place. No efforts were made to reduce or stop flights from countries that were recording high numbers of positive cases due to the Omicron variant. Instead what we heard from the Health Minister was that systems will be put in place to send samples for testing as numbers increase, a clear indication that no plan was in place to deal with the expected. We do not know if and when samples were sent for testing to confirm which variants are in Guyana. This is the level of crassness the people of Guyana have to endure from this careless administration,” the Coalition stated.
According to the Coalition, the COVID-19 numbers are drastically out of control and further exposes the PPP’s incompetence. “Their only strategy now is to attempt to show a reduction in the numbers by testing less and hiding the real numbers from the public. This is not how a Government manages a health crisis. The people of Guyana, in accordance with ARTICLE 24 of the Constitution of Guyana which states: “Every citizen has the right to free medical attention and also to social care in the case of old age and disability”, should have unhindered access to PCR testing. At this juncture the Government should be boosting its capacity to do more daily testing so that it can be aware of the COVID-19 situation and make informed decisions to positively impact the health and safety of the people of Guyana. Instead, what we are made to endure is a Government that is shying away from its responsibility and placing more and more of our citizens at risk.”
Meanwhile, Director of PAHO, Dr Carissa F. Etienne said with COVID-19 surging throughout the Americas and demand for diagnostics higher than ever, countries must prioritise rapid antigen tests for those with symptoms – who are most at risk of spreading the disease. With 7.2 million new COVID cases reported in the region over the past week, countries must “expand testing at the community level to relieve pressure on hospitals, which are working overtime,” she said during a media briefing on Wednesday. Rapid antigen tests, which offer a diagnosis in just minutes, do not require specialized equipment or training so, “can be deployed to primary health centers, where they can reach more people closer to home,” the PAHO Director added.
Given the current shortage of tests – a problem that is expected to continue for some time as Omicron spreads rapidly throughout the region – Dr. Etienne also urged countries to advise those without symptoms who have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine where possible and follow public health measures. “Slowing the spread of COVID will require every tool in our arsenal – vaccines, social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding large gatherings, and testing,” Dr. Etienne said.
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