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Roche poised to launch mass Covid testing

The rapid testing will be done by health workers from nose or mouth swabs. Keystone / Denis Balibouse

Swiss drug firm Roche says it is to launch a new Covid-19 antigen test before the end of the year, allowing faster, higher-volume testing.

One of the most potent use cases could be at airports to ease the severe restrictions on air transport.

“These fully automated systems can provide test results in 18 minutes for a single test, with a throughput of up to 300 tests per hour from a single analyser,” the group said on Tuesday.

The test, which Roche says is “highly accurate”, is performed by healthcare professionals using swab samples from patients with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19, or people suspected of exposure to the virus.

Roche plans to make the test available by the end of 2020 in all markets where EU approval is recognised, and also intends to apply for approval for use in the US market.

“Being able to quickly and correctly identify if someone has a SARS-CoV-2 infection is critical to informing patient management decisions and containing the spread of Covid-19,” said Thomas Schinecker, CEO of Roche Diagnostics. “We are aware that governments and healthcare systems are under intense pressure to increase SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity to effectively manage the spread of the virus. A high-volume antigen test is a valuable addition to the testing portfolio for helping diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

German airline Lufthansa announced at the end of September it was to trial rapid tests to detect Covid-19 in passengers, which could be extended to its Swiss subsidiaries Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) and Edelweiss.

Newspapers NZZ am Sonntag and SonntagsZeitung reported that the tests were being developed by Roche. The requirement to have a negative Covid-19 test when boarding a plane could allow exemptions from entry bans and compulsory quarantine, they wrote.

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