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Rapid Covid-19 tests burn holes in pockets, but these are testing times

Update: March, 13/2022 - 07:54

 

Illustration by Trịnh Lập

 

 By An Phương

The COVID-19 pandemic has already exacted a heavy toll on all of us and a heavier toll on many of us.

But, even in the new normal of learning to live safely with the coronavirus, the impacts can be seen in growing out-of-pocket costs.

Adding to the regular household overheads of masks and sanitisers of various kinds is the rapid testing done at home.

In my recent chat with close friends (26 to 34 years old), one fact that was harped on was the millions of đồng they’ve spent on COVID-19 rapid test kits since the beginning of this year.

“The pandemic has changed the way we budget. I will not complain about the healthy but expensive food and supplement options that are said to enhance our well-being,  but the amount of money poured into test kits is something else. I am surprised by how much I have spent on them,” said Thanh Hằng.

“I used to self-test once a week but the increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted me to do it three times a week these days. I come into contact with infected colleagues every two days, pretty much, so frequent testing is necessary to keep myself and my family members safe.”

Hưng Long said that his bank provided employees with free COVID-19 rapid test kits on request.

“When an employee experiences a symptom of the COVID-19 disease like fever, fatigue, headache and cough, he or she can ask for a free test kit…,” he said.

Long said that his close friend, who works for a local firm, did not have such privileges and had spent about VNĐ10 million in the last two months on four boxes of rapid test kits for his family.

“He has used them up and will purchase another box soon. My friend is stressed about the overspending he has to do,” he said.

Thảo Tâm, 26, tests herself for the virus every time she comes back from work.

“My mother and younger sister are not vaccinated yet and are at risk of being infected with the coronavirus, especially the highly transmissible Omicron variant. I do a quick test every day. Although I have switched to cheaper test kits, they don’t save me much money because of the frequency of testing,” she said.

We have had different experiences with the pandemic, but we can agree that the virus is here to stay, so it is crucial that we rethink our post-pandemic budgets.

What good is wealth without health, we may say, but the costs that the pandemic is exacting as we scramble to preserve our health and safety are actually mind boggling if we do some macro calculations.

Owning a small business myself, I find it’s necessary to provide rapid test kits for each team member every time we have an offline meet up. Along with vaccination, testing remains one of the most effective ways to track and reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Even as I feel financially and mentally drained, I realise how much privilege I have to be able to spend millions of đồng on tests.

But does all this testing make us safer?

“I have seen several friends without any symptoms test positive with the RT-PCR test. What strikes me most is how the virus was not detected via several rapid antigen tests,” said Ngọc Anh.

I believe how we take a sample from our nose with a swap is crucial to the final result. People should carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions and choose the type of rapid test licensed by health authorities.

According to Dr Nguyễn Minh Tiến, deputy director of HCM City Children’s Hospital, people with typical symptoms of COVID-19 who have tested negative via the rapid test may be in the incubation period or have been infected with low virus concentration. Therefore, the antigen test result would read a false negative.

Tiến added that some global studies have found that the rapid test is less sensitive for Omicron than the Delta strain.

“I try to isolate myself at home for at least three days every time I come into close contact with someone with COVID-19. Frequent testing is necessary during the new normal, but I have tried to learn how to make this cost effective,” Hằng said.

Long added conducting three rapid tests in a span of 24 hours would be a wasteful expenditure. 

The fear of COVID-19 infection was understandable but it might result in scarcity of rapid test kits in the market and eventually push its price higher, he noted. 

We should resolve to use the rapid test kit properly and in combination with other tools such as vaccination, health rules and nutrition, especially with the summer holidays drawing close. VNS

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