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Despite reports of staff working flat out to meet demand, testing centres in the South Moravian Region are inundated with citizens seeking coronavirus tests, leading to a delay of several days in availability of appointments. Staff at the centres say that the main cause of the excess demand is a large recent influx of self-payers who have been unable to obtain referrals. Photo credit: FN Brno.

Brno, Sep 15 (BD) – Public coronavirus testing centres in South Moravia have been hit by a large increase in demand in recent days, leading to a wait of several days for appointments. Although such centres are intended to be primarily for tests referred by GPs and the regional hygiene office, the recent demand has been driven by so-called “self-payers” – private patients without referrals who are concerned that they may be positive and go for a test to make sure.

At a press conference on Monday, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government would be trying to increase testing capacity, but asked citizens who wanted tests “just to be sure” to consider whether their test was really necessary. As well as people who have become concerned after experiencing symptoms, self-payers include people who have been exposed to positive cases, but not considered risky enough for referral by the hygiene office, as well as those who already know they have been exposed and therefore choose not to wait for several days before being contacted. According to Prime Minister Andrej Babis, speaking at the same conference, 60% of positive cases are discovered following referrals.

“They need to stop scaring people. Then there will not be crowds of asymptomatic people at the testing centers. It needs to be explained to the public what percentage of those tested were positive, and how many of the positive ones were really sick,” said Renata Ciupek, head of the anti-epidemic team at the South Moravian regional hygiene office. Jaroslav Štěrba, the Director of Brno University Hospital, agrees that “testing self-payers drains our capacity to care for those who are really sick.”

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, doctors and nurses are exhausted after long shifts testing patients and fighting against Coronavirus. Photo credit: Freepik / For illustrative purposes.

Nonetheless, phones at the office are ringing off the hook: “People are shouting at us, why should they stay home when they have no symptoms and just want to know how they are doing?” said Ciupek. “We are completely overwhelmed by all these asymptomatic cases. The situation is unsustainable under these conditions, and it doesn’t make sense. The staff are exhausted, and soon there will be no one to deal with serious cases.” The increase in demand has meant staff working 12-hour days, including at weekends.

Vladimír Šrámek, head of the Anesthesiology and Resuscitation Clinic at St. Anne’s Hospital, said that around 60 people a day are currently able to be tested there. “Over time, it will certainly be necessary to increase this capacity here as well. At the same time, it would be good if self-payers were tested in private facilities so that we could be available to hygiene offices.” On Tuesday afternoon, University Hospital Brno (FN Brno) announced plans to increase testing capacity from 220 to 1,500 daily. 

The University Hopsital Brno plans to increase the capacity at testing stations to test 1500 patients per day. Credit: FN Brno.

However, the solution must be more coordinated than relying on private clinics. Vojtech admitted at the press conference that they cannot simply block people from getting tested, so must increase capacity. The 60% figure quoted by Babis also means that 40% of positive cases come from self-payers, so any restrictions put on their number seems counter-productive. The consistent advice from the World Health Organization is that testing is the main tool to fight the spread of the pandemic, and many countries have testing rates far ahead of the Czech Republic, with tests far more readily available, and for free. 

However, even increased testing will only be part of the solution, as capacity issues run throughout the process; for each asymptomatic case detected, another set of exposed contacts get added to the list of people who must be contacted by the already overstretched hygiene staff, adding to the backlog.

Rules to come into force from September 21st requiring those testing positive to fill out a form online listing their recent contacts and their details may help ease the workload on hygiene office staff and speed up the process, but in fact this “new” system simply acknowledges a reality that already existed – many reports from social media and elsewhere from throughout the summer suggest that people exposed to known clusters of coronavirus have been left to “self-trace” their contacts themselves, rather than waiting up to two weeks to be contacted by the regional office. 

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