HEALTH Minister Sylvia Masebo has announced that her Ministry will only prioritise COVID-19 testing on individuals with symptoms due to the limited availability of test kits.

Speaking during the routine COVID-19 update, Monday, Masebo said government had a challenge of limited availability of diagnostic test kits for COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten our lives and livelihoods. We are still in the midst of the fourth wave characterized by the highest numbers of new infections we have ever recorded; increasing numbers of persons requiring hospital admission and increasing numbers of persons dying from COVID-19 related complications. It is now clearly evident that we have widespread community transmission occurring in all districts around the country and this has led to an increased demand for testing. We are running an open and transparent government under the leadership of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Mr Hakainde Hichilema and we don’t shy away from telling the public the various challenges that we face from time to time,” she said.

“At the moment we are going through a challenging phase of limited availability of diagnostic test kits for COVID-19. This is due to supply challenges due to the pandemic itself where we see increased global and local demand for the test kits and other supplies required for response. This is further compounded by our limited resource envelope.”

She said government had revised its testing criteria and would prioritise patients with symptoms.

“Following the increased community transmissions, we have revised our testing criteria to prioritise those with symptoms. This is a logical approach because as at now 1 in every 3-4 Zambians is infected and we cannot cope with mass test screening. Therefore as we pass through this phase, we are emphasizing that our current COVID-19 testing strategy entails that we prioritize the following individuals and groupings with SYMPTOMS suggestive of COVID-19: (1) individuals who are at risk of developing severe disease; (2) health care workers; (3) those admitted in healthcare facilities with various ailments (4) symptomatic individuals in an institutionalised setting for example prisons, boarding schools and training camps,” Masebo said.

“We advise that if you are a contact to a known case or at risk of acquiring the disease but have no symptoms, you do not need to be tested but must observe enhanced prevention measures. If you develop symptoms at any point, please get to the health facility for examination and possible testing.”

Masebo said the testing strategy which was adapted had taken into consideration the available resources.

“I do realise that some sections of the public may have some difficulty with this strategy. I wish to state that different testing strategies are considered according to different stages or situations of the COVID pandemic, taking into account several factors such as the availability of resources. With the current widespread community transmission, our priority is ensure early diagnosis in those who get sick and provide early appropriate treatment. We are scaling up identification of those who may need medical treatment so that we can prevent progression to severe disease. Our aim is to reduce transmission through cluster detection and implementation of the public and social measures,” she said.

“This testing strategy adapted at such a stage of the pandemic has taken into consideration the available resources to maintain the highest level of public health impact whilst ensuring international standards for best practice are consistently met. This strategic approach is consistent with recommendations set by the World Health Organisation and other international authorities.”

Masebo called on schools to put in place adequate sanitation facilities before they resume classes.

“As we look towards the re-opening of schools in the next few weeks, it is important that we quickly control transmission to ensure the school learners and teaching staff interact and conduct academic activities safely. It is important therefore that school management assess their environments and put in place provisions to ensure (1) public health measures are known and practised by everyone; (2) adequate sanitation facilities with running water are available (3) good environmental controls such as adequate ventilation and continued disinfection are available (4) ‘safety persons’ are appointed, capacitated and assigned to perform screening and timely identification of suspect cases and enforcement of the five golden rules; and lastly, let us ensure those over 12 years of age are vaccinated. This is one sure way we shall have our education facilities continue to offer services without much risk on the lives of the learners and the teachers,” she said.

And Masebo said the country recorded 1,485 new COVID-19 cases out of 5,389 tests conducted in the last 24 hours.

“The past week saw a slight reduction in the overall number of new cases detected, from 26,557 the previous week to 23,227, with a 3%-point drop in positivity also observed (from 32 percent to 29 percent). Sadly, we recorded more lives lost in comparison (69 compared to 41 the previous week). In the last 24 hours we recorded 1,485 new COVID-19 cases out of 5,389 tests conducted countrywide, giving a national positivity of 28 percent. Positivity across the provinces remains high, with the highest today being Eastern at 48% and lowest being Northern at 13 percent,” said Masebo.