Read in Catalan

The newly-introduced French initiative allowing pharmacies to provide rapid antigen tests for Covid-19, being launched this week, has found support in Catalonia from two leading figures. The president of the Barcelona Medical Association, Jaume Padrós, and the president of Barcelona's Chamber of Commerce, Joan Canadell, have both spoken out on the possibility of replicating the plan south of the Pyrenees.

"I find it a very interesting proposal to consider. Without forgetting that individually we must maintain effective measures to protect against contagion: mask, distance, hygiene," said Padrós.

Business leader Canadell went further, demanding that the Catalan health ministry implement the initiative.

"We have just been informed that 50% of pharmacies in France will have rapid antigen tests before November 13th and that 80% have already placed orders, according to the Organization of Pharmacists' Unions (USPO). Catalan health department and minister Alba Vergés: we must undertake antigen testing urgently to reactivate the economy!" said Canadell.

Test roll-out in France

French pharmacies will start selling Covid rapid tests this week, making it much easier to determine cases of infection in the population, according to radio station Europe1. The tests will be carried out at the pharmacy itself.

Moreover, they are cheap and fast: with a cost of 8 euros, instead of the 54 euros which a PCR test costs, and the results will be ready in 20 to 30 minutes, without the need for a laboratory. Results from a PCR test take 1-5 days, a period that may be even longer if there are, for example, processing delays.

The French government estimates that by next weekend around half of all pharmacies will be able to offer the tests. Pharmacies will have to reserve a small space inside their premises to carry out the swabbing, which takes a sample from the nose of the person being tested.

Pros and cons

As it is fast, cheap, and good at identifying individuals who are close to the peak of their infection, the rapid antigen test could significantly increase testing in society at large, and enable many cases to be identified quickly, allowing people who test positive to isolate immediately and get the right care sooner.

On the other hand, rapid tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, and so may give negative readings for some people who actually have the virus, especially if they have mild symptoms. Thus, a negative result may not be reliable, making the rapid antigen test less suitable for those who, for example, will be in contact with people who are especially vulnerable to the virus, or are especially vulnerable themselves.