Private clinics conducting hundreds of rapid tests a week claim they are not obliged to report positive cases to health authorities, possibly leaving a number of COVID-19 patients unaccounted for.

Rapid antigen tests that give results in under an hour are not deemed to be as accurate as the health authority’s ‘gold standard’ test, known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test.

One of the rapid test clinics advertising its services online.

But since the rapid tests were introduced to the market in October, a growing number of clinics have been administering them.

Three separate clinics informed Times of Malta they are not required to report results to the health authorities.

“There is no paperwork or reports that we are compelled to send to the health authorities if a patient is positive,” said Dr Francis Fenech, from the Drug Store in Qormi.

“I myself, just call the patient and make sure that he/she has called 111 and is in quarantine.”

Another clinic said they were under no obligation to report positive results, but made their clients sign a waiver form allowing them to hand over data to the health authorities should it be requested.

By law, COVID-19 is a notifiable infectious disease, which obliges healthcare professionals who come across cases to report them to the public health authorities.  However, a health ministry spokesperson did not reply to questions about whether they were receiving reports of the number of COVID-19 patients that resulted from rapid antigen tests conducted in clinics.

Instead, she stressed “the importance that healthcare professionals inform patients to do another swab which is tested by PCR and to self isolate until the confirmatory PCR test result is available.”

It was only then that their result would be absorbed in official figures published every day, she said.

While rapid tests carried out at the airport and Boffa rapid testing centre are stated separately during Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci’s weekly briefing, the rapid tests from private clinics are not included, she confirmed.

At least eight clinics in Malta offer rapid testing, but it is unclear how many tests they conducted a day.

The owner of one clinic told Times of Malta they carried out on average of 30 tests a day, rising to 100 “on a good day”.

To add to that, increased socialising over the festive period last month and various marketing campaigns offering group discounts on rapid antigen testing has increased the appeal of these rapid tests that give results in under an hour, he said.

A couple of days leading up to Christmas, they experienced a spike in tests, and confirmed they only sent in a report to the health authorities when they tested a large number of people but did so voluntarily.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 through a PCR test is ordered into mandatory quarantine for 14 days.
They are subject to random spot checks and can also be fined €10,000 if they breach quarantine.

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