|This photo shows an at-home coronavirus testing kit developed by Lucira Health, which won the first approval for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Nov. 17, 2020. Captured from Lucira Health website|
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government is considering allowing people to use self-testing kits for COVID-19 as a measure to largely increase testing capacity amid rising sporadic infections.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) held a meeting with quarantine experts, Friday, to thoroughly discuss possible use of self-diagnostic kits.
"Discussions will be held on the necessity, legitimacy and accessibility of the kits as well as monitoring the situations of other countries where the devices are being used. We will find ways to strengthen our quarantine capacity by using all the tools and means available to this date," KDCA official Kwon Jun-wook said at a briefing, Thursday.
But he added that the meeting did not imply that the country would immediately introduce at-home testing kits allowing citizens to take samples by themselves and get the results in minutes.
The health authorities have been showing a prudent stance on the rapid COVID-19 diagnostics devices, out of concerns that their relatively low accuracy may increase confusion, and people may have difficulties in accurately collecting their own samples through a nasal swab.
The self-testing kits are less sensitive than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and more prone to false negatives. While the PCR test can detect infection even with a small amount of virus in the body, the speedy test requires a bigger amount of virus to make a reliable diagnosis.
Some countries including Germany and the United Kingdom have already approved the use of home testing kits. The United States launched a four-week pilot program, Wednesday, to see whether widespread use of rapid tests is effective in slowing the spread of the virus. Residents in two states, North Carolina and Tennessee, can test themselves three times a week for a month with the free rapid antigen testing kits. The accuracy of the device is reported to be about 85 percent, and results are available within 15 minutes.
|People stand in line at a makeshift COVID-19 testing center in front of Seoul Station, Friday. Yonhap|
Local medical experts show divided views about this method ― some questioned the efficacy, while others advised that it is important for Korea to expand its testing capacity in order to curb the rapid spread of the virus.
Jacob Lee, a professor of infectious medicine at Hallym University Medical Center, wrote on Facebook: "Some people are insisting to increase the number of tests as strengthening social distancing seems difficult for now. But tightened social distancing measures should come before bringing in self-diagnosis kits that have not been fully verified scientifically."
Ki Mo-ran, a professor of preventive medicine at the National Cancer Center, who has been calling for its use since the early stage of discussions, said it is time for the country to introduce a new approach to COVID-19 testing.
"We cannot expect any improvements to our quarantine capacity without a new approach. Now it is time to drastically increase the number of tests, which may be achieved by allowing people who can't make it to the testing sites to extract the samples themselves," she said during a recent interview with local media outlet TBS.
Meanwhile, daily new cases in the country have surpassed 500 for the third consecutive day as of Thursday, raising concerns of a fourth big wave of infections.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressed concerns that this may be the start of a new wave. During a regular meeting on COVID-19 response measures, he said, "At the beginning of the third wave of infections last winter, the number of daily cases of 500-something rapidly doubled in only five days."