Covid-19: 740,000 tests in reserve now unusable

PCR tests have a limited shelf life because of their chemical components. Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

The PCR tests, bought last spring by the Swiss government as part of an emergency reserve, have expired, costing the authorities millions of francs in losses.

This content was published on April 11, 2021 - 13:00

In 2020 over a million coronavirus tests were purchased by the Swiss army pharmacy on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health to the tune of CHF16.7 million ($18.06 million), army spokesperson Stefan Hofer told the Keystone-SDA news agency, confirming a report published in the newspaper NZZ am Sonntag.

Of that lot, 740,000 tests passed their expiry date in March and April of this year, for a loss of nearly CHF14 million. PCR tests have a limited shelf life because of their chemical components.

The public health office decided to close the pharmacy warehouse in January, according to Hofer. The army managed to sell 300,000 tests from the emergency reserve to laboratories but only at 10% of the original purchase price. The government was thus able to recoup CHF3 million, the NZZ am Sonntag reported.

Hofer said no decision has been taken on whether the remaining tests will be destroyed or if the individual components could still be used.

As part of its management of the Covid crisis, the government asked the army pharmacy to secure medical supplies, such as masks and disinfectants, as it is the only unit of the federal administration that has a license for the wholesale acquisition of medical goods.

Shortage of self-tests

Also on Sunday, the public health office confirmed to Keystone-SDA that the positivity rate would no longer be considered in the government’s evaluation of whether restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic should be eased or tightened. Since last Wednesday, the general public is able to acquire rapid self-test kits in pharmacies free of charge. But only positive results from these tests are reported to the authorities, which distorts the positivity rate.

By Friday, more than 500,000 self-tests had been distributed to customers. But pharma giant Roche, the maker of the kits, said that since then it had not been able to supply more tests to pharmacies. The president of the umbrella organisation Pharmasuisse criticised the Basel-based multinational, telling Swiss public television SRF that the company had originally promised far more tests than were actually delivered.

Deliveries would resume early next week, by which time it would be able to supply several hundred thousand tests per day, Roche said.

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