18:28 / 17.01.2022.

Author: Katja Miličić

Family doctors begin rapid antigen testing for COVID

Rapid test for Covid-19

Rapid test for Covid-19

Foto: Davor Puklavec / Pixsell

With the fast-spreading Omicron variant driving high Covid-19 case numbers, Croatia is trying to ramp up testing by offering rapid antigen tests at family doctor’s offices starting on Monday.

As of this week, a positive antigen test will be enough to confirm a Covid-19 diagnosis without the need for confirmation with a PCR test. Public health authorities are hoping to take the pressure off PCR testing sites where in some cases people have to wait for up to a week to get tested. However, family doctors, whose offices are mostly located in local health care centers, are not at all happy with being given this extra task. Many are concerned how they will keep patients potentially infected with Covid away from their other patients.

Some doctors said they were ready on Monday while others claimed they did not have adequate conditions to meet the demands of safe Covid testing. Jadranka Karuza from the Coordinating Body of Croatian Family Medicine says this is an attack on doctor's offices.

"This is a massive epidemiological problem. How can we mix people potentially infected with the highly contagious disease Covid-19 with our other patients who are most often coming in for treatment of chronic conditions, who are elderly, and who are often in a high risk group?" Karuza asked.

Miroslav Hanžovečki, the head of Zagreb's Health Care Center West, says they have organized a separate area inside the building and a daily time window for testing to avoid mixing with other patients. All doctors are underscoring that patients must make an appointment before coming in for a test.

PCR testing sites are still under a great deal of pressure. In Zadar, for example, the public health bureau can process around 800 tests per day but demand is much higher than that.

Croatia reported only 1,397 new cases on Monday but the low number is due to slow testing over the weekend. Another 39 people have died of complications related to Covid.

Split Clinical Hospital is treating a record number of Covid patients, 230.

"We can't say the situation is getting better. Rising case numbers and a low vaccination rate are increasing the pressure on our hospital,” said Damir Gabrić, the head of the Covid task force for Split-Dalmatia County.

The Omicron variant appears to have become the dominant strain of the virus in Croatia. Molecular Biologist Ivan Đikić, the Director of the Institute of Biochemistry II at Goethe University in Frankfurt, believes a large share of the population will get infected by Omicron and as a result, develop some additional immunity. He is optimistic about the long-term, believing that the combination of vaccination and natural immunity could begin turn the course of the pandemic around by spring. Đikić also notes that Croatia has recorded 820 thousand cases and 13, 200 deaths, placing it among the top ten countries with the highest number of Covid deaths per capita.

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