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Opposition parties say Govt’s stance on lateral flow tests ‘defies common sense’

Long queues at the Midtown testing centre after Christmas. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Opposition parties on Monday asked the Gibraltar Government to review its position on the use of at-home lateral flow tests (LFTs) within the community, insisting allowing them would ease strain on the Midtown testing facility.

In a statement early Monday, Together Gibraltar said the Government was “criminalising and patronising” the community on the use of the LFTs, and that more testing is a way to “prevent the spread” of Covid-19.

In a statement later on Monday, the GSD said there could be a legal requirement for people who test positive using a LFT to take a PCR test.

The party added that the use of LFTs would be “an additional method of detection which would allow people to take responsibility and monitor the spread of the virus within the existing legal framework.”

Since the Christmas holidays, there has been a rising number of Covid-19 cases in Gibraltar, with long waits at the Midtown testing facility as people have been queuing in close proximity to get tested.

Last week the Government urged the community not to call 111 to avoid jamming up phonelines, adding that the service was “overwhelmed” by increasing numbers.

It said the Rock’s “successful control of the virus to date has been a result of an existing strategy of supervised testing.”

The Government said tests done by qualified medical professionals provide quality assurance of the test and results, and that keeping testing under the remit of the GHA ensures that the Director of Public Health “is able to maintain epidemiological control” over the number of cases and transmission rates.

But this stance on LFTs was questioned by both the GSD and Together Gibraltar.

“The use of LFTs in other countries has played a vital role in monitoring the virus and improved public engagement more generally,” the GSD said in a statement.

“Whilst there has been debate about the utility and reliability of the LFTs in other countries, they form part of the armoury for detection.”

“The virus appears to be endemic within our community and the Government should now consider the introduction of legislation allowing access to LFTs alongside a legal requirement for people to feed in their results to the public health authorities.”

“The current system encourages anyone who would like to test but who does not have symptoms to present themselves at Midtown with purported symptoms to avoid paying the £30 fee.”

“LFTs on demand would allow people to test at home first and if positive could be backed up by quality assurance PCR tests at the Midtown Covid Testing Centre.”

“Indeed, it is not clear why the LFT option was not made available prior to the festive period.”

“People are genuinely concerned about the costs of the current testing regime and our community deserves a fully explanation as to why we haven’t sought to follow the lead of other countries who include free LFTs as part of their detection response.”

Shadow Minister for Health Elliott Phillips added: “We understand that the Government has taken the view that our public health authority should control and supervise the process of testing within our community for quality assurances purposes.”

“The Government for now have therefore rejected the provision of free LFTs to the public at large.”

“Whilst it is appreciated that we are a small community and we may have capacity to supervise the testing process, the virus will remain with us and our testing centres appear to be seeing very large numbers of people.”

“We must now accept that the virus is living amongst all of us and many countries including the UK and our neighbour Spain have authorised the use of free and/or small fee LFTs to help members of the public monitor their own health care without creating a huge burden on health care professionals who are required to perform other duties within their respective health services.”

Mr Phillips said that if the Government was concerned about quality assurance and monitoring, this could be allayed by the acquisition of LFTs which the UK Government have authorised for widespread public use.

He suggested the introduction of legislation which requires a member of the public, once testing positive after using an LFT, to submit to a PCR test.

“We do not take the view that the use of free LFTs are the complete answer to testing, but what they do is add an additional method of detection which would allow people to take responsibility and monitor the spread of the virus within the existing legal framework,” Mr Phillips added.

For its part, Together Gibraltar said a timely LFT “could prevent someone from spreading Covid,” adding that everywhere else people are being encouraged to take the at-home tests, and that these were available for free in the UK until only a few days ago.

“But in Gibraltar, the government disallow the population to swab themselves,” Together Gibraltar said.

The party said that during the Christmas period, the Government admitted that the 111 helpline was overwhelmed and it understood it was taking two days to receive their PCR test results.

“This is having an impact on people's personal freedoms as well as businesses as people wait around for days to receive their test results,” Together Gibraltar said.

“And yet the government is stubbornly clinging on to its law which criminalises anyone who imports a lateral flow test.”

Together Gibraltar said the Government “will attempt to defend its policy by claiming it is following public health advice.”

“But it has been following UK public health advice throughout the pandemic,” the party added.

“The argument that Gibraltar is smaller and therefore different has never influenced government to stray from the guidance and policy coming out of the UK, so why is government not following UK public health advice on this particular issue?”

“It defies common sense.”

Together Gibraltar said: “The fact here is that the control of LFT imports lies with the government, and people are being charged £30 per test when they cost practically nothing.”

“Why the massive mark up when this should be a public service?”

“Why should there be such a huge profit margin when we're talking about people's health during a pandemic?”

“None of the government's assertions in their press release explain that.”

“More testing is a way to prevent the spread.”

“The people demand transparency and common sense from their government.”

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