December 16, 2020 12:48
Fast coronavirus antigen tests began in the greater Seoul area on Monday at temporary test facilities that were set up to deliver results in 30 minutes.
The tests are conducted with nasal swabs and results are displayed in the same way as pregnancy test kits. If the test is positive, another polymerize chain reaction (PCR) test will be conducted to confirm the result.
The speed of the antigen tests allows health authorities to quickly identify and quarantine coronavirus carriers who have no symptoms so as to minimize the risk of spreading it.
Health officials conducted 18 speed tests in Seoul and 261 in surrounding Gyeonggi Province on Monday.
But epidemiologists warn that the antigen tests serve just to screen possible carriers with 90 percent accuracy, which means one out of 10 people who get tested could end up with false negatives and walk back into the general population.
PCR tests are 98 percent accurate, but it takes between 24 and 48 hours for results to become available.
The antigen tests must be administered within six days of infection, when the highest concentration of antigens appears. That is why they come in handy when there is a rapid spread of the coronavirus in a particular region.
They are also useful in remote regions or in emergency situations when PCR test kits are not available. Prof. Choi Jae-wook at Korea University said, "At a time when we see 1,000 infections a day, antigen tests are needed for people in their 20s to 40s who tend to show no symptoms and spread the virus quickly due to their high mobility."
"We need to discover asymptomatic carriers by conducting regular antigen tests at universities, factories, police departments, fire stations and delivery companies," he added.
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