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Hungary to launch rapid COVID-19 testing this week: PM Orban

EU leaders summit in Brussels

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary plans to launch rapid antigen tests for coronavirus infections possibly as soon as Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Monday, as testing in the central European country has struggled to keep up with the pace of infections.

Antigen tests detects proteins on the surface of the virus. They require an uncomfortable nasal or throat swab, and can produce results more quickly than PCR tests – which detect genetic material in the virus – but are considered less accurate.

“Together with our epidemiologists we are following what new testing methods are available in the world,” Orban told parliament in response to an opposition lawmaker’s question.

“We believe that antigen tests have a similar reliability to PCR tests,” Orban said. “Our experts have advised us to make the decision to… introduce antigen tests as well and this will begin, possibly as soon as tomorrow.”

Orban did not elaborate on the number of rapid tests that will be carried out and a government spokesman declined to respond to further questions. The antigen tests can deliver a result in minutes.

As of Monday, Hungary had reported 47,768 coronavirus cases with 1,173 deaths. Of the 9,651 new tests reported on Monday, some 15% came back positive for COVID-19 based on a Reuters tally. Nearly 2,000 people are being treated in hospitals.

Hungary weathered Europe’s first COVID-19 wave in the spring fairly well thanks to a tough lockdown. But, like neighbouring countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary has seen a sharp rise in cases over the past month, though the government has resisted calls for more onerous restrictions that would deepen an economic downturn.

Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays and shortages that have plagued efforts to diagnose and trace those infected quickly.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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