Government says cheaper Covid-19 tests will be rolled out at airports

The government has announced that it will be rolling out cheaper Covid-19 tests at port of entries with immediate effect.
The government has announced that it will be rolling out cheaper Covid-19 tests at port of entries with immediate effect.
Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

In a move to reduce logistical complications at the country's points of entry, cabinet announced on Thursday that it would implement antigen testing.

In a statement, the government said the antigen tests for Covid-19 detection would be rolled out to all ports of entry with immediate effect. As part of easing the lockdown and moving to alert level one, the country opened its borders on October 1.

Level one travel regulations stipulate that all travellers arriving at the port of entry without a certified negative Covid-19 test result — not older than 72 hours — must be tested at the point of entry before entering the country. The antigen test will be done at a fee of between R150 and R170, which will be payable by the traveller.

The government urged travellers to make sure that they are able to make the payment at the point of entry, as the cost will be payable by the travellers and not SA or their country of origin.

It also said it was aware that some neighbouring countries, like Lesotho, do not have the capacity to conduct PCR testing for all travellers destined for SA.

“Antigen testing will therefore enable the management of the influx of travellers without certified PCR tests timeously,” cabinet said in a statement.

The World Health Organisation recently approved the use of rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 as a diagnostic screening and surveillance tool in communities where a rapid result is required at low cost.

Rapid antigen tests have been commonly used in the diagnosis of respiratory pathogens, including influenza viruses and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has granted emergency use authorisation (EUA) for two companies to supply antigen tests.

There is anticipation that more of these tests will become available from other suppliers. The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) will be procuring those tests initially for use at the ports of entry.

The government said when more kits become available, antigen tests will be rolled out in community surveillance programmes.

Samples for the antigen tests are collected in the same way as those of the PCR test.

Travellers are implored by the SA government to adhere to the regulations and ensure that, where possible, they complete processing their PCR tests not more than 72 hours before their departure or arrival at a port of entry in SA.

“This is how we can best protect each other as we travel around the world,” reads the statement.

Travellers arriving at a port of entry without a certified negative PCR test will follow the following procedure:

  • The traveller will be screened for signs and symptoms on arrival
  • Upon failure to produce a certified PCR test result, the traveller will be directed to a testing facility at the port of entry
  • A staff member from NHLS will collect the samples and conduct the test immediately
  • The cost will be borne by the traveller and the NHLS shall be remunerated upon testing. Travellers must be prepared to pay out of pocket (about R150- 170) and claim the fees from their health insurance service provider (pending the relevant insurance agreement)
  • If the traveller tests negative, he/ she will be allowed to proceed through the port of entry, provided they have been cleared of red flags at the screening phase
  • If the traveller tests positive he/ she will be required to quarantine at a facility designated by that particular port of entry. They will not be permitted to travel across provinces. Contacts of a traveller testing positive at the point of entry, including those who were in proximity of the traveller within the conveyance, will also be tracked and traced.
  • Travellers who arrive without a certified PCR test and who refuse to test at the port of entry will not be permitted entry into the country and will be required to quarantine at a designated facility.