Facing a long wait till widespread COVID vaccine availability, Europe focuses on fast antigen tests largely absent in the US

Credit: Shekhar Yadav/EPS

While highly accurate, PCR [COVID] tests are relatively expensive, can be carried out only by certified labs and take between several hours and a few days to deliver a result.

In the past, European authorities have been wary of alternatives to PCR testing because of their lower accuracy, but latest research shows that the benefits of fast, large-scale testing significantly outweigh this downside. The new methods, which have been growing in use in the U.S. and are now being unrolled or scaled up in Europe, can provide results in just 15 minutes without labs and with minimal manpower.

“This is a great step forward,” said Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, who leads the virology center of Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, the largest of its kind in the country. Such testing would help investigate clusters, preventively survey vulnerable groups and might even allow the return of mass events such as concerts and public sporting events, he added.

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Germany, one of the global leaders in Covid-19 testing, is approaching its full testing capacity, at 1.3 million PCR tests a week. To avoid rationing tests, the government is now launching an antigen-testing strategy on Oct. 15. Testing will begin in nursing homes and hospitals, including for visitors, Health Minister Jens Spahn told The Wall Street Journal.

“Testing is the decisive tool to identify and cut infection chains,” Mr. Spahn said.

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