Coronavirus: Approval of expenditure for COVID-19 mass testing
The Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt has approved net expenditure amounting to 13 million francs for carrying out COVID-19 mass testing in schools, businesses and other institutions. This therefore satisfies the financial requirements for rapid extension of regular testing in the Canton of Basel-Stadt and enables more extensive use of up to 100,000 tests per week up until the end of 2021. Testing is still voluntary but the Government is hoping for high acceptance and good levels of participation in the testing programme.
The Department of Health Basel-Stadt presented its concept for coronavirus mass testing at the beginning of March (press release of 5 March 2021). Since then, the canton has been able to win laboratory, logistics and IT partners for the planned COVID-19 mass testing and has successfully tested the processes in several pilot projects. The Government’s approval of net expenditure amounting to 13 million francs for carrying out up to 100,000 tests per week until the end of the year clears the way for the rapid extension of regular testing in schools and businesses in the Canton of Basel-Stadt.
Since 15 March 2021, the Federal Government has also undertaken to pay the costs of equipment and laboratory services for COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic individuals. However, the corresponding charges do not include costs for extended testing logistics (packaging and transport of testing equipment and samples), IT (test management software solution) and for communication and administrative expenditure related to carrying out and paying for tests.
Mass testing on such a scale can only be conducted efficiently and safely with these extensive, additional services. However, the high cost is worth it. Cantonal physician Thomas Steffen: “Regular testing in schools and establishments picks up positive cases that would otherwise go undetected. New research shows that this weakens the dispersal dynamics of coronavirus, something that is extremely important during the delicate phase we are currently in.”
Participation in testing is still voluntary. However, because the benefits of COVID-19 mass testing increase the more people take part, the Government is hoping for high levels of acceptance and participation in the testing programme in both schools and establishments. Cantonal physician Thomas Steffen: “It is important to note that tests only ever give a snapshot that can support, but not replace, hygiene and protective measures.”
After mass testing in establishments, more extensive mass testing in schools is also possible now that the expenditure has been approved. During the past two weeks, the Department of Health has tested processes in primary school classes and is now ready for large-scale deployment. All of the approximately 700 primary school classes, including nurseries, and their staff will be integrated into the testing programme in the coming weeks. Mass testing for older pupils is planned for after the summer holidays.
Mass testing in businesses has got off to a good start. So far, around 165 businesses have registered. Between them, they have approximately 40,000 staff, including 13,000 people with an increased transmission risk. Establishments are being admitted to the testing programme gradually according to risk profile and laboratory capacity.
Systematic testing is planned in the Canton of Basel-Stadt at least until the end of 2021. Seats of infection can still emerge even when vaccination coverage is higher. It should be possible to tackle these quickly and efficiently with targeted, widespread testing.