Coronavirus: In Europe, the practice of testing for Covid-19 differs from one country to another

Often overwhelmed by demands, several European Union member states limit tests to healthcare workers and the most serious cases. Others have changed their strategy along the way.

To test, or not to test. This is the question that keeps coming up. Across Europe, the authorities have opted, in dispersed order, for different strategies to deal with the spread of the coronavirus on their territory, while monitoring out of the corner of their eye what is practiced in the neighbor. On March 18, the European Commission launched a call for tenders on behalf of eighteen member states in order to jointly purchase, in particular, test kits. But manufacturers have until the end of March to respond. And Brussels will not decide on the successful candidates until early May.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) advocates massive screening – “Test! test! test! “- to better measure the evolution of the pandemic, each state acts according to the gravity of the situation on its territory and, most often, its means and available stocks. Result: à la carte answers to multiple questions: should the maximum number of people be subjected to an examination? Reserve them for the most vulnerable? Abandon this technique in the face of the rapidity of contamination?

The subject is sensitive because the example of South Korea, where screening is practiced on a large scale, has made an impression. In this country, one of the first to be affected by Covid-19 after China, the health authorities, educated in particular by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, anticipated the need for tests very early by mobilizing private laboratories . Conversely, France now limits access to tests to healthcare staff and to the most serious cases, which, for a part of the medical profession and public opinion, is not obvious.

With a pandemic situation very comparable to that of France, Austria is pursuing a more dynamic screening policy. All that is needed is to show symptoms or to have been in contact with an infected person to have an examination, on a medical prescription. For now, authorities say they can meet all demands. They also rely on devices developed by Roche laboratories, which make it possible to test 96 samples every three and a half hours in an almost automated manner. A technology that should soon be massively deployed.

Tests from his car

Vienna has also installed “drive-ins”, as in South Korea, where you just have to come in car with its prescription. Does this explain the low number of deaths? Austria deplores only 5 deaths for 1,843 positive cases. The head of the Red Cross and member of the Task Force Corona, Gerry Foitik, puts the importance of this policy into perspective. “It is not absolutely necessary as the consequence of a positive test is that you have to stay in quarantine for fourteen days. However, if a doctor has a suspicion of coronavirus and he cannot do a test, he must in any case already send the patient to quarantine “, he explained in the daily Die Press.