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What is a COVID Rapid Antigen Test and should Australia be using them?

This illustration shows a Rapid Antigen Test kit at Pharmacy Servais in Jodoigne Source: AFP

With New South Wales currently testing more than 90,000 people a day in a bid to track the Delta variant's spread, health authorities are still hampered by the time it takes to get test results. An antigen test, also known as a rapid test, is a faster, cheaper but less effective way to help determine who has COVID.

Dr Peter Collignon ((KOL-in-yon)), from the Australian National University, says it works very differently to the current test, the PCR nasal swab, and can be taken at home, with results in just 15 minutes.

"Rapid Antigen Testing is looking at a part of the outside of the virus rather than the genetic material. And it's not too dissimilar to what we use for pregnancy tests, for instance, where you have a filter paper, essentially, and you see a line that comes up if you have the right reaction there."

A study led by Oxford University found Rapid Tests can be up to 95 per cent accurate for symptomatic cases.

But that rate drops to less than 60 per cent for people showing no symptoms.

Australian pathologists, though, believe its true accuracy is actually much lower.

Dr Lyn Waring ((wearing)), the Chair of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, warns that the higher a community's infectious rate is, the less reliable rapid tests become.

"If we were to use them, and we assume our prevalence in Australia happened to be about 0.5 per cent, and I'm hoping it doesn't get to that level, but if it ever did, the worry would be that you would actually have false-positives; so you would get an extra seven-in-ten to nine-in-ten that the test would call positive that actually aren't positive."

Rapid tests are available across Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States, where they can bought at supermarkets, pharmacies and even petrol stations.

There is a push in Australia for the federal government to do the same.

Click this audio button to listen to Ms Kaur's full interview in Punjabi. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 meters away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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