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Covid home testing kits likely headed to Finnish market

Quick tests are particularly useful in remote areas far from laboratories, according to an expert.

Pikatestipakkauksia kassahihnalla Saksassa.
Rapid home coronavirus testing kits at a German pharmacy. Image: AFP / Lehtikuva

Coronavirus quick test kits for home use will likely reach the Finnish market, according to Nelli Karhu, senior inspector at pharmaceutical regulating agency Fimea.

Karhu said Fimea had already heard from a coronavirus home test company wishing to enter the Finnish market.

"Preliminary inquiries have already arrived," Karhu confirmed.

Self-administered coronavirus home test kits were introduced at German pharmacies over the weekend. Due to varying degrees of regulation, home testing kits are more freely available in some European countries than others.

Karhu said one reason quick tests became more commonly used in some part of Europe was due to a lack of laboratory capacity in the midst of a worsening epidemic situation.

Meanwhile, Finnish labs have had enough capacity to carry out needed tests, she explained.

Mass testing strategies

Following a winter of coronavirus-related restrictions, Germany rolled out on Monday a new coronavirus strategy heavily reliant on rapid testing.

German leaders have vowed that every citizen would receive at least one free quick test per week, with a goal of finding asymptomatic carriers of the virus before they have a chance to spread it further.

Austria has taken a similar approach, with school kids being required to be tested twice a week in order to attend school in classrooms with the tests being offered free-of-charge at pharmacies.

The home kits sold in Germany and Austria are antigen tests.

PCR tests are used in Finland because of their reliability and are more sensitive than antigen tests, according to Carita Savolainen-Kopra, leading expert at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Finnish labs have the capacity to process about 30,000 PCR tests every day, and currently carry out about 20,000 tests daily, Savolainen-Korpa said.

However, antigen tests are seeing increased use in Finland, particularly since the beginning of this year, she noted.

Asymptomatic also tested

In Finland, rapid tests are used when results are needed immediately, such as in hospitals or when the shipping of test samples is challenging due to being in remote locations, far away from laboratories.

"They are good in faraway places, like in northern Finland. The sensitivity [of quick tests] is about 85-90 percent that of PCR tests, which means there may be a higher chance of false negative results," Savolainen-Korpa explained.

Finland also tests asymptomatic people for coronavirus.

For example, Fimea's Karhu said people get tested if they were exposed to an infected individual or received a notice from the infection tracing app Koronavilkku that they may have been exposed.

However, THL specialist researcher, Salla Kiiskinen, noted that rapid tests currently used in Finland are for symptomatic individuals as well as tracing infection chains, not to test large numbers of people.

She noted that if the epidemic situation worsens, using a broader variety of tests could be possible.

EDIT 9.3.2021 This story originally stated that Germany and Austria were using PCR tests in their rapid testing programmes, but in fact they are using antigen tests.

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