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UPDATED: Fact-checking Dr Okoe Boye on Cost of Covid-19 Testing In Other Countries: A blend of true and false claims

8 mins read This fact-check has been updated to include a response on the cost of Covid-19 testing in China.

Photo credit: CItiTube 8 mins read

On Sunday, President Akufo Addo addressed the nation on measures taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his address, the President announced the re-opening of Ghana’s air borders on September 1 and outlined a number of measures. Among the measures, passengers who enter the country are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test and are mandated to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival at the Kotoka International Airport.  

The next day, the government convened a press briefing to provide further information about the arrangements. At that press briefing, the deputy health minister, Dr Bernard Okoe Boye, justified the $150 mandatory COVID-19 test to be done at the airport by making comparisons with what pertains in other countries (40:32 – 42:25). 

“When you go to a place like Zimbabwe, you will pay about $210 for the test. In China, you will pay about $150 for the test and they are doing PCR which is a very good test that identifies the virus itself …Now when you go to Togo here, you will pay about 150 euros, not dollars. In fact, I just got the figures for Nigeria – you will pay about $130 and not only that, you need to go to a hotel and wait for results, which can be one or two nights…,” Dr Oko Boye said.

The verification of the claims was limited to the specific countries mentioned by the deputy health minister. Before anything, it is important to provide some explanation about COVID-19 testing.

Types of COVID-19 tests around the world

Tests for COVID-19 are categorized into three types namely PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, antigen test and antibody (serology) test. PCR is a test that looks for bits of the SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus that causes the COVID-19 in the nose and other areas of the respiratory tract. It determines if a person has an active infection. 

Antigen test looks for pieces of the protein that constitutes the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine if a person has an active infection. An antibody test is a serological test that looks for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the blood to determine if there has been a past infection. 

Although both PCR and Antigen tests determine if there’s an active infection of the COVID-19, PCR is more expensive and takes more time than the antigen test. 

Again PCR tests are typically highly accurate and usually do not need to be repeated.  For Antigen tests, positive results are usually highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test. The PCR test is presently considered the “gold standard” for clinical diagnostic detection of SARS-CoV-2” 

Image  source: fda.gov

A number of countries, Iceland, France, Germany, and Russia, including are conducting COVID-19 testing at airports.

Ghana’s testing regime

Travellers arriving into Ghana since the resumption of passenger flights on September 1 are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken not more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure from countries. 

On arrival, all passengers are to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing. This test according to Dr Okoe Boye should not last more than 30 minutes and will come at a cost of $150 to be borne by the passenger. The type of testing being done at the Kotoka International Airport is the antigen test. 

Government officials say the amount of $150 was reached upon a careful analysis of what happens elsewhere in other countries. In defending the price, the Dr Okoe Boye mentioned Zimbabwe, China, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. 

We sought to verify the costs for tests in these countries as mentioned by the Deputy Health Minister.

Claim 1: “Now when you go to Togo here, you will pay about 150 euros, not dollars.

Verdict: False

Togo confirmed its first case of the COVID-19 on March 6 2020. As of September 2, 2020, the Africa Center for Disease Control reported that the country had 1416 total confirmed cases, 28 deaths and 1035 recoveries. 

The government of Togo announced the closure of all borders on Friday, March 20, 2020. All non-essential inbound and outbound traffic and travel was prohibited per that order with only cargo allowed into the country. 

International and domestic flights resumed in Togo on August 1, 2020, with the announcement of COVID-19 protocols.

First, all travellers both departing and arriving are mandated to register and fill an online traveller declaration form on the government’s website. Any traveller departing from Lomé must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours before departure.

A laboratory dedicated to screening passengers departing from Lomé is set up in the enclosure of the old terminal of Gnassingbé Eyadema International Airport (AIGE) for COVID-19 screening tests. Again, any passenger entering Lome has to present a negative PCR test dating less than 5 days before boarding. 

Upon arrival, the passenger is subjected to another PCR test. For this purpose, they must complete the online form available and pay the cost of the said test before their departure. The on-site PCR test that passengers undergo at the airport upon arrival is CFA 40,000 which is equivalent to $72 US and approximately £55.

All travellers must install TOGO SAFE, a contact tracing application, upon arrival at the Lomé Airport. It is mandatory for the app to remain activated for at least 30 days. Passengers who do not install the app are quarantined in a containment facility provided by the government for at least 14 days. 

The cost of the quarantine is borne by the traveller. Test results arrive within 24 hours. Those with positive test results will be required to self-isolate either at home or at a government facility until they test negative. 

From the foregoing facts, we find the claim made by the Deputy Health Minister that passengers pay 150 euros for the test false. The cost of the on-site PCR test done at Lomé Airport is less than 100.

Claim 2: When you go to a place like Zimbabwe, you will pay about $210 for the test.

Verdict: False

Zimbabwe reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on 21st March 2020. It now has a cumulative case count of 6559 cases, deaths stand at 203 while 243 persons have recovered from the COVID-19.

On Monday, March 24, 2020, Zimbabwe’s President, Emerson Mnangagwa, announced the closure of the country’s borders to all human traffic except for returning residents and cargo. He announced then that returning residents will be subjected to strict screening procedures including a 21 day self-quarantine. 

At the moment, Zimbabwe is closed for passenger flights. Only Zimbabwean nationals are allowed into the country. 

Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa says “the plan is to start with the resumption of domestic flights and then move to international flights” adding that “Government is finalizing on modalities for the reopening of airports to support the resumption of the tourism sector.” 

Since Zimbabwe’s air borders are still not opened for international flights, protocols only relate to returning citizens. 

We checked with Zimbabwe’s Health Ministry about COVID-19 arrangements for returning citizens. An official from the Epidemiology and Disease Control(EDC) department told Starr Fm’s correspondent in Zimbabwe that citizens who arrive are to be tested. The official, however, added that government facilities do not have the capacity to test at the moment so travellers are referred to private centres to do the test. The cost of the test is therefore dependent on the institution where the test is done. 

The Health Ministry says it is not aware that travellers are charged $210 to take the COVID-19 test at these private centres although in the past some persons have taken the test at a cost of $65.

The EDC official says travellers can either be quarantined at government institutions or private institutions. We did an online search about private institutions offering COVID-19 packages, below is the one from the Bronte, The Garden Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe.

We therefore rate this claim false.

Claim 3:  ‘For Nigeria, you will pay about $130 for the PCR test and not only that, you need to go to a hotel and wait for results, which can be one or two nights…’

Verdict: True

During a media briefing at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja, Chairman of the  Presidential Task Force(PTF), Boss Mustapha, announced that Nigeria’s borders will open to air passengers on September 5.

As stated at the briefing, all travellers to Nigeria must have tested negative within 96 hours of departure. 

“All intending travellers to Nigeria must have tested NEGATIVE for COVID-19 by PCR in the country of departure pre-boarding. The PCR test MUST be within 96 hours before departure and preferably within 72 hours pre-boarding. For certain countries, COVID-19 PCR tests will only be acceptable from specified laboratories.”

All persons intending to travel into the country are to register on the Nigerian International Travel Portal online via https://nitp.ncdc.gov.ng/onboarding/homepage.

Travellers must again repeat the PCR test upon arrival in Nigeria on the 7th day of arrival in Nigeria.

According to the National Center for Disease Control ( NCDC) in Nigeria, a traveller, upon arrival in Nigeria is to undertake a COVID-19 test for which the individual will pay independently. 

Dubawa was told by NCDC officials that an amount of ₦50,000  is to be paid to have the PCR test conducted upon arrival in either Lagos or Abuja airport. This is equivalent to about $129.30.

Some private laboratories however charge between ₦40,000 to ₦50,000. 

Claim 4: In Benin, you pay €150 for the PCR test.

Verdict: True. 

A COVID-19 testing centre has been set up at the main airport in Cotonou, Benin’s capital. All travellers to Benin are to be subjected to a mandatory PCR test upon arrival at a designated government site. The cost of the test is in two forms, normal service and premium service.

With the normal service, passengers are to pay 100,000 FCFA (an equivalent of about $165) which covers the test on departure and on arrival and 14 days after arrival in Benin.  This is equivalent to €152.45.

For the premium service, passengers pay 125,000 FCFA (equivalent to190.56) for their test on departure from and return to Cotonou. For this service, passengers are guaranteed ease and speed in sample collection, a 6-hour turnaround time for the results, and service at a VIP center. Travellers, upon having their samples taken, may be directed to self-quarantine while waiting for their results.

Should a passenger be found positive of COVID-19, all other tests that are carried out are free of charge and may be subject to government-mandated isolation measures. However, if the individual requires premium service, an additional 25,000 FCFA is charged.

All these charges are at the passenger’s expense.

Claim 1: In China, you will pay about $150 for the PCR test.

Verdict:  False.

According to our sources at Taiwan Fact-checking Center, the cost for PCR test in China is CHY 120 which is equivalent to $18. Travellers arriving in the country are to take the test and then proceed on a 14-day quarantine in specific hotels. The hotels cost about CNY 350, equivalent to $51 daily but vary depending on the city and hotel. Meals are also available at the travellers’ expense. Travellers have the option of taking a second test in the last few days of quarantine.

Further, information from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the General Administration of Customs indicate that passengers are required to provide evidence of a negative test result before boarding a flight to China. 

In order to ensure the health and safety of international travel and reduce the risk of cross-border transmission of the epidemic, passengers on flights coming to China will be boarded with a negative certificate of the new coronavirus nucleic acid test,’ a joint statement reads.

‘Chinese and foreign passengers who come to China by flight shall complete the nucleic acid test within 5 days before boarding. Testing should be carried out in institutions designated or recognized by Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.

Passengers of foreign nationality shall apply to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate for a declaration of health status with a negative nucleic acid test certificate,it added.

This then implies that prices may vary depending on the health centre the individual may test at. It is, therefore, unlikely to have the same price across all test centres or health institutions.

The cost of the COVID-19 nucleic acid test (NAT), similar to what is being called the PCR test, was in April relatively cheaper than in other countries. In April, a test cost between $22 to $37 in China but was about $500 to $3,000 in many other countries. 

The reason for this disparity, according to a study, includes the fact that

  1. China has adequate production capacity and supply of test reagents.
  2. The Chinese government adopted a policy of blending government-guided prices with market-regulated prices which keeps the pricing low and standardized. 
  3. Logistics companies and third-party testing institutes provided great support, reducing other added costs of the testing reagents. For instance, some companies provided free transportation services to ensure the smooth flow of medical supplies.

Dubawa has reached out to Chinese authorities for an official statement regarding test charges for travellers and will update this report once information is made available.

………………

This fact-check was originally published by StarrFmfactchecker but has been edited and updated by Dubawa 

Roselena Ahiable is a Senior Researcher with Dubawa Ghana. Roselena has years of demonstrated work experience in advertising, sales and marketing, having worked with some of the leading brands in Ghana. She has completed a Master of Philosophy programme in Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon, with specialisation in Public Relations and Advertising. She has also received advanced training in print and broadcast journalism. Roselena also holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and Theatre Arts from the University of Ghana. As a trained journalist with interest in research, Roselena provides the team insight in news and media trend analysis.

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