Qatar can currently run as many as 5,000 tests per day to diagnose cases of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and get the results between six to 12 hours, said Dr Einas al-Kuwari, chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Hamad Medical Corporation.
“An infected person may need more than one test,” she told a press conference organised by the Ministry of Public Health on Thursday evening and telecast live on Qatar Television.
Dr Abdullatif al-Khal, chair of the National Strategic Group of Covid-19, co-Chair of the National Pandemic Preparedness Committee at the Ministry of Public Health and head of the Infectious Diseases at HMC, was also present.
Dr al-Kuwari explained that HMC’s laboratory has significantly increased the number of Covid-19 tests it is able to do each day as well as reduced the time it takes to process test results.
"There are two kinds of Covid-19 tests; PCR molecular test and serological test. PCR molecular test is the gold standard test using a swab of the back of the mouth and the top of the nose to determine if someone is Covid-19 positive.
"The serological test uses a finger prick to deliver results within 15 to 20 minutes and shows whether or not a person had previously been exposed to Covid-19, but does not show if the person is still infected with the virus”.
Dr al-Kuwari pointed out that the serological test helps frontline teams, such as those working in the medical care sector, in determining if a person had previously contracted the virus and had immunity to it, noting that New York State recently used this test to detect the magnitude of the epidemic within the city, and found about 14.9% of the state's population have antibodies to the virus.
“Serological test is very useful in the future to know the extent of the virus spread in Qatar,” she said while pointing out that HMC's testing strategy has three elements overall.
The first, health care related testing is provided for people who come to a health care setting and display Covid-19 symptoms. The second, public health testing involves contact tracing and random sampling. Under contact tracing anyone who has had contact with someone who is Covid-19 positive is tested.
Random sampling involves choosing a sample population area and randomly testing people, providing a better understanding of how widespread the virus is. "The third element is testing people returning from abroad. This has helped successfully identify Covid-19 positive people coming into the country," Dr al-Kuwari said.
Reviewing the progress made at the laboratory level to counter Covid-19, the official recalled that capabilities were strengthened through the acquisition of the latest modern technologies and equipment, which led to an increase in the number of tests every day.
“This also increased the speed of the number of tests and consequently led to the discovery of more cases of infection, which helps the tracking teams to identify those in contact with the infected people more quickly, which in turn also leads to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve.
On the increase in the number of infections, Dr al-Kuwari explained that the speed of the tests and the increase in the number of tests contributed to the increase in the diagnosis of Covid-19 positive cases.