Covid-19 Rapid Testing – Lateral Flow or Antigen Tests

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

One of the pandemic pleasures of life in Europe – as opposed to Australia or the USA – is access to rapid testing – more formally known as Lateral Flow or Antigen Tests.

▲ In London you can pick up a free batch of 7 NHS test kits and test yourself anytime you want. Pre-breakfast I can test myself and then make my coffee while I wait for the result, officially 30 minutes, but in fact it always seems to come through in 20 minutes or less.

◄ The bar by the C indicates I’m negative, if there was a bar by the T it’s time to book a much more expensive and much slower PCR test. The top 3 are British NHS test kits, the bottom 2 are very similar Greek ones although with the Greek tests you only need to do a nasal swab, the NHS require throat and nasal swabs. Note they’re all negative.

I wrote a story for the Australian newsletter Crikey‘The little test that could’ – about my rapid testing enthusiasm and, naturally, it sparked numerous comments from people who thought I was stupid! Yes rapid antigen tests are not 100% accurate, they’re not ‘gold standard’ like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, they do turn up false positives (they say you’re infected when you’re not) and more often false negatives (they say you’re OK when in fact you’re infected). But not often.

Despite which they’re illegal to use in Australia. ‘Leave testing to the experts’ is the Australian belief. Well perhaps the Australian experts do know more than all those misguided Europeans, but I’m pleased I can do a test anytime I want to, quickly, easily and currently for free.

I thought only Australia was unenthusiastic about self-testing for Covid-19, but in fact it’s precisely the same story in the USA where this recent New York Times report – ‘Where Are the Tests? Other countries are awash in Covid tests. The U.S. is not,’ commented ‘the F.D.A. has loosened its rules somewhat over the past year, allowing the sale of some antigen tests (which often cost about $12 each). But drugstores, Amazon and other sellers have now largely run out of them. I tried to buy rapid tests this weekend and couldn’t find any.’