A possible change in COVID-19 testing policy in the Western Cape may result in residents under 55, who have no comorbidities, no longer being tested for the virus.

The Western Cape remains the hardest hit province with the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in South Africa.

In a statement on Tuesday, June 2, The Western Cape Health Department said: “The majority of people who contract COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms and will be able to isolate and recover at home. However, those who are over the age of 55 or with underlying health conditions are most at risk of becoming seriously ill. This is why our health response must place a special focus on these groups, and why our testing strategy must align with this risk.”

It appears that the new testing policy is a result of a lack of testing recourses. On Monday, June 1, the Western Cape Health Department said they had briefed Minister Zweli Mkhize on their hotspot plan and has discussed some of the “risks in the system” including a “backlog in the in testing has a result of the NHLS backlogs and shortages of testing kits and reagents required for testing”.

Thus, those most vulnerable are being prioritised. “The Western Cape Government’s testing strategy currently favours healthcare workers, and vulnerable groups,” they said on May 31.

Department head Dr Keith Cloete confirmed the policy to eNCA in an interview on Tuesday, June 2. He said that as of last Friday, out of 27 000 tests at least 19 000 of those tests’ results were delayed for longer than 7 days. “What we have done with our colleagues at NHLS is to prioritize health care workers,” he said.

Due the the serious backlog, he noted, “we’ve also, as of today, started changing our testing policy. We want to focus on people that’s in hospital, on healthcare workers, and then also on people that are at risk”.

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