On 28th October, Malta rolled out rapid COVID-19 tests, capable of delivering results in a matter of minutes.
In the weeks since then, one could notice a significant increase in the number of daily tests being conducted. Many assumed that rapid testing was behind this, however, Malta’s health authorities have just revealed that they have not and will not be adding numbers elicited from rapid tests to those elicited from PCR tests – and with good reason.
Although not 100% foolproof, PCR tests are way more reliable than rapid tests.
Whenever a PCR test leads to a positive result, that result is bible. These tests detect a patient’s viral load, and therefore the only way a patient can test positive after undergoing a PCR test is if the virus was present inside their body. This means that when it comes to PCR tests, there isn’t such a thing as a ‘false positive’.
Having said that, one should also look into what it actually takes to be considered COVID-19 positive.
Last September, the BBC reported that the main test used to diagnose COVID-19, i.e. the PCR test, may be so sensitive that it could be picking up fragments of dead virus from old infections. This could therefore lead to an over-estimate of the current scale of the pandemic.
In light of this, one could technically still be COVID-19 positive despite only having dead coronavirus cells, rendering him/herself virtually uninfectious.
On the other hand, these tests can result in ‘false negatives’, that is when the virus is not detected.
When someone opts for a rapid test, they might still have to undergo a PCR test to confirm their result.
Due to their occasional inaccuracies, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 after undertaking a rapid test will be required to undergo a PCR test. It is only once they test positive from a rapid test and PCR test that they will be considered to be COVID-19 positive.
Once positive results are elicited from a rapid test and PCR test, these patients will be added to Malta’s number of active COVID-19 cases.
Having said that, individuals who test negative from a rapid test will not have to undergo a PCR test to confirm their results.
In a number of days, health authorities confirmed, the ministry will start publishing detailed statistics stemming from rapid testing – i.e. the number of rapid tests done and the positive cases detected from them.