Italy trials low-cost DIY Covid swab test kits

The kit works like a pregnancy test, delivers results in as little as 15 minutes, and has a production cost of $3.56

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Italy is running trials on a coronavirus swab test that costs €3 ($3.56) to produce and gives results in as little as 15 minutes.

Health chiefs in the Veneto region hope the self-administered tests would lead to considerable time and cost savings, and reduce the number of infections.

Luca Zaia, president of Veneto, announced 5,000 do-it-yourself kits will be put through trials in five microbiology labs in the next two weeks.

This gallery shows him demonstrating the swab to assembled reporters.

In each of these locations, the swabs will be compared to the traditional molecular tests to evaluate their accuracy.

The results of the trials will be then presented to the Italian National Institute of Health that will decide whether the kits are safe to use and can be sold nationwide .

How does it work?

The kit is similar to a pregnancy test. It contains operating instructions, a cotton swab, a tube with liquid reagents and a stick.

Using the swab, the patient takes a nasal sample and puts the stick into the screw-top vial containing the liquid reagent.

After a few minutes, the patient pours four drops of the liquid – using the tube cap dropper – on the swab. Within 15 minutes, coloured lines will appear on the swab to indicate whether the patient with coronavirus symptoms is infected or not.

How accurate are DIY tests for Covid-19?

The test is still at the trial stage so it is still early to tell.

Developed by Dr Roberto Rigoli, head of the Microbiology and Virology unit at Ca’ Foncello Hospital in Treviso, the kit is thought to be remarkably reliable.

Dr Rigoli said that: “3,486 subjects were tested in Treviso … [and] of these, 415 were positive. Do-it-yourself tests had identified 413. The reliability for positive [results] is 99.52 per cent. As for the negatives, out of 3,071 tested, we found 22 false positives, for a [reliability rate] of 99.28 per cent.”

Assuming these data are accurate, every person could take the test at home and find out whether they are positive for coronavirus or not without visiting a hospital or .

Mr Zaia was not overly concerned about the accuracy of the early results and said the tests will be available in Italian pharmacies as soon as next month.

The concept is similar to that of the UK's faltering rapid mass testing programme.

Ranieri Guerra, World Health Organisation assistant director general for strategic initiatives, confirmed what Mr Zaia said.

Speaking to Italian television talk show Otto e Mezzo, he said: "Prototypes are already there. We have to complete the regulatory process and put them on the market. We're talking about weeks."

Mr Guerra said he was confident the announcement will trigger a commercial war, with many companies interested in buying the prototype.