The number of rapid COVID-19 tests being carried out are not yet being included in the daily update on the coronavirus situation in Malta, health sources say.

As the list of tests carried out in a single day continues to hit highs of more than 3,000, there has been speculation that this is because the on-the-spot tests are being rolled out this week.

But health sources have told Times of Malta that since rapid testing is only in its first week, these statistics have yet to be included in the daily updates.

The health authorities were still fine-tuning the rollout of such tests, they added.

Statistics on the number of rapid tests carried out overnight are expected to soon be included in the daily update. These, however, will be detailed separately to the information on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing (more commonly referred to as the swab test), seen as the gold standard.

When a patient tests positive for the virus through the rapid test, a PCR test is ordered to confirm the result. It is at this stage that the positive result is added to the tally of confirmed cases released to the public.

Health Minister Chris Fearne said last week the authorities expect to carry out about 1,000 rapid tests daily. Some 20,000 testing kits arrived in Malta last week with another 50,000 expected this week.

The tests are for healthcare workers, those working with the elderly and at the airport. They will then be rolled out to schools and primary healthcare.

Why is the number of tests carried out significant? 

As more people test positive for the virus, the number of tests being carried out is crucial.

This helps establish what is called the positivity rate – the percentage of positive cases that emerge from the total number of tests carried out over a set period of time.

Malta’s health authorities do not distinguish between repeat tests – those for positive patients who are tested to establish whether they have recovered – and new tests.

Yesterday, for instance, the positivity rate was about 2.7 per cent, as 84 new cases were detected from 3,044 tests.

This was significantly lower than the 6.1 per cent registered on Monday, when a record 218 new cases were detected from 3,557 tests.

Yet, despite Monday’s figure of new cases being the highest ever since the start of the pandemic, the positivity rate was still lower than when 204 cases were detected out of 2,885 tests on October 17.

That day, the positivity rate was just over seven per cent.

The World Health Organization only recommends loosening COVID containment measures if the percentage of tests of suspect cases remains below five per cent for two consecutive weeks.

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