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Lateral Flow Tests to be offered by ‘alternative providers’ in future

Queues of people waiting for their Covid tests at Midtown Testing Facility. Pic by Johnny Bugeja.

An expanded model for Lateral Flow Tests (LFTs) whereby alternative providers will be able to administer the tests in a supervised fashion is being planned, the Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, has confirmed.

Despite recent criticism of her decision to maintain a ban on testing at home, Dr Carter has remained firm that the supervised model for the use of LFTs is the best way to contain the ongoing pandemic.

But by outsourcing Lateral Flow Testing from MidTown Coach Park to other venues across Gibraltar, Dr Carter said this will both reduce long queues at the Drive Through and also ensure LFTs are more accessible to Gibraltarians.

"We have to ensure quality of tests, quality of the testing technique, and a link to the laboratory so that if they test positive, they get a PCR," she said.

"The reason that’s important is being able to keep a handle on the genomic sequencing, and then there has to be absolutely firm links into contact tracing."

"I've given those public health standards."

"Our colleagues are now working on expanding that model and access, so that we only use the Drive Through for the really important symptomatic cases and access to PCR testing, and that we expand the access to free Lateral Flow Testing to Gibraltarians to enable them to come out of isolation on day seven if they are a positive case [but are subsequently testing negative] or indeed for the wider asymptomatic testing programme."

Unlike Gibraltar, the UK has provided LFTs via pharmacies across the country, with members of the public able to test themselves at home.

But Dr Carter has taken issue with the quality of LFTs offered to the public in many other countries, adding Europeans have found that some tests being sold have not been approved.

Her concern is that someone carrying out these ‘at home’ tests could have a false sense of security if, unknown to them, the manufacturer has not been approved and the tests are not accurate.

Locally there have been calls to replicate the UK model and allow Gibraltarians to self-test, with a view that a person can have the option to self-test regularly, for example, before social gatherings and even without symptoms.
The crux of this issue is two-fold, she said, because without supervision someone could carry out their self-test erroneously or they can misinterpret the rules.

There is evidence to support that concern because on occasion, UK passengers on incoming flights have misinterpreted Covid guidance.

Last month the UK issued new guidance, with an emphasis on self-managing.

This means those who test positive for Covid-19 under law should self-test with an LFT on day six and seven of self-isolation.

If the person tests negative on both days, they can leave self-isolation.

On Monday, when testing an inbound flight from the UK, the team at the Covid-19 Rapid Test Centre at Gibraltar International Airport came face-to-face with this problem.

Dr Carter said a UK passenger had misinterpreted the guidance intentionally or unintentionally, had not self-tested on day six or seven and left isolation on day seven.

To travel to Gibraltar, no pre-departure test is necessary, but the passenger should have carried out the two LFTs and stayed in isolation under UK guidance.

Instead they boarded a flight to Gibraltar, tested positive upon arrival and now the entire flight has been put at risk.

"That for me was a prime example of why we need to take a tight grip and continue to maintain that tight grip, in terms of that supervised testing model linking to the laboratory and linking into contact tracing," she said.

She added: "In the UK people have interpreted ‘come out on day seven and I don't need to do the day six and seven test’, and that concerns me greatly because the whole model in the UK, as I understand it from the UK modellers, is predicated on asymptomatic [persons having] a negative test day six, negative test day seven. If they are not doing that, they will have uncontrolled spread and transmission of Covid."

Dr Carter added in the future she is open to reviewing her stance on a supervised model of testing, but currently she believes this is the best way to curb an exponential growth in cases.

However, she has listened to concerns from the public who wish to access LFTs regularly and will expand the model to ensure LFTs are more accessible.

She added that more in-depth information on alternative providers of Lateral Flow Tests will be announced in due course.

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