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Coronavirus testing lab may be brought over next month

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A SELF-CONTAINED coronavirus testing lab – which would be able to process up to 2,600 tests every 16 hours by September – could be in Jersey next month, the Deputy Medical Officer of Health has revealed.

Dr Ivan Muscat

Dr Ivan Muscat made the comments during a Health and Social Security Scrutiny hearing yesterday, when he also reiterated that the Island could be hit by a second wave this winter and that the planned scaling-up of testing was partly a response to this threat.

Responding to questions from Deputy Kevin Pamplin, Dr Muscat said: ‘We want very much to have more large-scale on-Island PCR testing and we are in the throes of bringing in a self-contained laboratory which would be annexed to the Hospital laboratory to undertake PCR tests at a rate of about 1,376 every eight hours, if everything goes swimmingly – which would be about 2,600 every 16 hours on a reasonable work day.

‘We are hoping, if everything goes to plan, to receive that self-contained laboratory in early August, with results starting to come out of it in early August and with it up to full capacity in September and most definitely ahead of the winter season. The thinking behind that is most definitely borders [increased arrivals] and winter.’

Dr Muscat added that he and his colleagues were also looking at new technologies currently being developed which could lead to tests being processed in under 1½ hours.

‘At the same time we are will be looking at other technologies such as the LAMP [Loop-mediated isothermal amplification] PCR technology, which would give you a result within about 1½ hours – 45 minutes extraction and 20 minutes testing – and that is a rapidly developing technology which is very attractive and we are keeping a close eye on that,’ he said.

‘The third option, which has only just come to light in the last week, is the concept of pooled testing. So the on-Island test is one sample per cartridge and 65 cartridges per day but you can – in a low-prevalence area such as Jersey – do up to six swabs per cartridge. Theoretically then, you have six times 65 tests that you can undertake [in a single day].

Dr Muscat then explained that if any cartridges tested positive, six separate tests could then be undertaken on the individuals who contributed to the cartridge to determine who had the virus.

He said that pool-testing was already used in other areas of medicine such as blood donation and it was therefore not a new concept.

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Dr Muscat added that there was a ‘distinct likelihood’ of a second wave of the virus during the coming winter – a season when all respiratory viruses were more common.

He said: ‘We should expect that if Covid is going to cause a second wave, it is going to do so in winter. If you look at the southern hemisphere now, which is their winter-time, of course, then places in South America and South Africa and one or two areas in Australia are seeing an increase in Covid. So we will need to be even more vigilant and more careful as we approach winter-time.

‘The other thing that we need to bear in mind is that all respiratory viruses are common in winter, and that includes flu, and I would very strongly encourage all those who are eligible for free flu vaccinations to be vaccinated as soon as possible this coming season. More flu vaccines have been requested to cater for that.’

Ed Taylor

By Ed Taylor
Journalist

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