South Africa on Monday embarked on a mass screening of the coronavirus as about 10 000 field workers went into towns, villages and cities. It is part of the government’s response to curbing the spread of the virus which has so far infected over 1 600 South Africans and killed more than 70 000 people worldwide. On Monday, South Africa’s death toll was 11.
The roll-out of the large-scale testing programme was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the wake of a 21-day lockdown of the country which has seen soldiers patrolling the streets and police setting up roadblocks to enforce the lockdown.
According to Ramaphosa, during the testing and screening process, “people with symptoms will be referred to local clinics or mobile clinics for testing. People who are infected with coronavirus, but who have no or moderate symptoms will remain in isolation at home or at a facility provided by the government and those with severe symptoms will be transferred to hospitals”.
He said that using mobile technology, an extensive tracing system will be rapidly deployed to trace those who have been in contact with confirmed coronavirus cases and to monitor the geographical location of new cases in real-time.
While the government has earned worldwide praise for the speed at which it moved to stem the spread of the coronavirus and now with the large-scale screening, some are asking what is the difference between coronavirus screening and testing? According to health officials, screening is less invasive compared to testing. A prerequisite for testing a person for coronavirus is that the person must first be screened through a questionnaire and possible temperature check.
The field workers, armed with clipboards and wearing protective gear such as gloves and masks and using sanitisers to prevent the spread of the virus to communities will screen people for coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. After having their temperature checked, communities will be asked several questions including their travel history.
Those who exhibit coronavirus symptoms will be referred to clinics and hospitals for testing. Those that have tested positive for the coronavirus, but have mild symptoms, will remain in isolation at home if their home environment is suitable for self-isolation, or will be placed at a facility provided by the government.
Unlike screening which is based on questions, testing is done when a healthcare worker uses a swab to take a sample of the fluid at the back of the nose and that back of the throat to send to laboratories for testing.
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