• South Africa intends to roll out rapid antigen testing for the coronavirus at its borders, and make it available at cost.
  • Anyone who doesn't arrive with a valid PCR test, the "gold standard" for detecting Sars-CoV-2, will be offered such an antigen test.
  • But ideally travellers shouldn't use the service, the government says.
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All travellers to South Africa will soon have the option of a fast, cheap test for the coronavirus when they reach the border – though the government is asking them not to use it.

South Africa will roll out antigen tests, administered by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), at all ports of entry, with "immediate effect", the department of home affairs said on Thursday.

Results of antigen tests are typically available within 15 minutes – as opposed the roughly 48 hour turnaround time for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests at most laboratories.

The antigen tests are expected to cost under R200, with travellers charged the cost price – as opposed to the around R850 local laboratories charge for a PCR test.

But, even so, traveller are asked not to use the antigen tests, home affairs said.

"It is important to be aware that the PCR test remains the gold standard, given that it has much higher sensitivity and specificity than the rapid antigen test. All travelers implored to adhere to the regulations and ensure that, where possible, they complete processing their PCR tests not more than 72 hours prior to their departure or arrival at a port of entry in South Africa. This is how we can best protect each other as we travel around the world."

Nonetheless, anyone who arrives at a South African border without a valid PCR test is to be offered the antigen option, and will be refused entry only if they refuse to have that test administered. Anyone who is red-flagged for showing symptoms of Covid-19 may still be quarantined, even with a negative antigen test.

Two groups of people are already to some extent exempt from what was, at its introduction a little over a week ago, an absolute requirement for a negative PCR test before being allowed to enter SA.

Business people from elsewhere in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who enter South Africa often may present the same negative PCR test for 14 days after they first show it at the border.

Airline crew, meanwhile, may enter South Africa without showing a negative test, but must then be confined to their hotels.

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