In Europe, the practice of testing for Covid-19 differs from country to country

Coronavirus test kit at Brescia hospital in northern Italy, March 10, 2020.
Coronavirus test kit, at Brescia hospital, northern Italy, March 10, 2020. Claudio Furlan / AP

To test, or not to test. This is the question that keeps coming up. From one end of Europe to the other, the authorities have opted, in dispersed order, for different strategies in the face of the spread of the coronavirus on their territory, while watching out of the corner of the eye what is happening in the neighbor. The European Commission launched on 18 March a call for tenders on behalf of eighteen member states to jointly purchase, in particular, test kits. But manufacturers have until the end of March to respond. And Brussels will not decide until early May on the successful candidates.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) advocates mass screening – "Test! test! test! "- to better measure the evolution of the pandemic, each State acts according to the gravity of the situation on its territory and, more often than not, its means and its available stocks. Result: a la carte answers to multiple questions: should the maximum number of people be examined? Reserve them for the most fragile? Give up this technique in the face of rapid contamination?

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The subject is sensitive because the example of South Korea, where screening is practiced on a large scale, has made an impression. In this country, one of the first affected by Covid-19 after China, health authorities, educated in particular by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, very early anticipated the need for tests by mobilizing private laboratories . Conversely, France now limits access to tests to healthcare workers and to the most serious cases, which, for part of the medical profession and public opinion, is not obvious.

With a pandemic situation very comparable to that of France, Austria is pursuing a more dynamic screening policy. For this, it suffices to have symptoms or to have been in contact with a contaminated person to pass an examination, on medical prescription. So far, the authorities say they can handle all the demands. They also rely on devices developed by Roche laboratories, which allow 96 samples to be tested every three and a half hours in an almost automated manner. A technology that should soon be massively deployed.

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Tests from his car

Vienna has also installed drive-ins, like in South Korea, where you just have to come by car with your prescription. Does this explain the low number of deaths? Austria has only 5 deaths for 1,843 positive cases. The head of the Red Cross and member of the Task Force Corona, Gerry Foitik, puts the importance of this policy into perspective. "It is not absolutely necessary since the consequence of a positive test is to have to remain in quarantine for fourteen days. However, if a doctor has a suspicion of coronavirus and he cannot do a test, he must in any case already send the patient to quarantine ", he explained in the daily Die Presse.


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