Many people in Finland have high hopes for the arrival of coronavirus home testing kits, which are expected to hit store shelves in coming weeks.
However, a leading expert at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Carita Savolainen-Kopra, emphasised that home tests were no substitute for the ones offered by health centres, but also conceded they have the potential to make Midsummer holiday gatherings a little safer.
"Yes, we could have a safer Midsummer using them, but you have to take into account that no tests can fully rule out infections," she noted.
The self-administered tests give results in 15 to 20 minutes. Similar to lab-confirmed test results, the home kit's samples are swabbed from the nose.
The kits are antigen tests that are most accurate if taken five to seven days after the onset of symptoms, so they may not show positive results if taken before the virus has had a chance to incubate.
Savolainen-Kopra said that while home tests can help people by reduce uncertainty, she also has reservations about their use.
"A negative home test result is not a free ride. If the incubation period is still ongoing when you take the test, it won't necessarily detect [the virus]," she explained.
No replacement for lab tests
Savolainen-Kopra said that the threshold for seeking out a genuine lab diagnosis at a testing centre should be low, even in households that have the kits.
"If you get symptoms, you shouldn't go shopping, but you should put on a mask and go get an [official] test and then wait for the results at home," she said.
Trade in home testing kits is brisk in other countries, including in Germany, where they have been widely used.
Heidi Liikkanen, CEO of Mediq Suomi, a home test importer, said she thinks Finnish consumers are excited about the kits.
The firm is planning to market Chinese-made test kits, the first shipment of which is expected to arrive in the middle of this month. Liikkanen said the company reckons that sales will be very brisk and decided to order hundreds of thousands of the kits just to start.
"We have prepared for reasonably high demand," the CEO explained, but said she could not directly comment on the consumer price of the tests. However, she said the cost would be in the same class as home pregnancy tests, which are about 10 euros apiece.
"I don't think the price will be significantly higher. Retailers will eventually decide, but I would like the price to be at a level that consumers are happy to buy the product. This way it would offer value to society," Liikkanen said.
Once they are launched on the Finnish market, the kits will be available in grocery stores and pharmacies as well as other shops, as negotiations with retailers are underway.
"The quick tests can be considered kind of like a sensitive thermometer. When there is a low threshold for tests, it prevents the spread of the disease," she said.
Finnish public healthcare currently provides Covid tests free of charge.