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Covid-19 positivity rate spikes after National Health Laboratory Service admits technical problems led to delay in test results

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Technical problems at state laboratories led to delays in the release of results of coronavirus tests, as well as a dump of close to 19,000 cases into the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ system on Sunday.

The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), which coordinates the state laboratories where samples are tested for coronavirus, admitted on Monday that it has been experiencing technical problems with laboratory information systems, leading to delayed Covid-19 test results.  

Spokesperson for the NHLS Mzimasi Gcukumana said the technical challenges, which coincided with IT security upgrades, affected daily production and led to a delay in the issuing of Covid-19 test results.

“Our engineers, together with our service providers, identified the problem and managed to fully restore the service in the early hours of Thursday [9 December] morning. We are monitoring the system very closely while ensuring that such bottlenecks do not occur.  

“The NHLS would like to reiterate our commitment to transmitting data timeously and accurately to all our stakeholders and the people of South Africa,” he said.

“It is also worth mentioning that the NHLS is modernising its IT infrastructure and is making a significant investment in this area,” Gcukumana added.

This comes after the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported 37,875 cases, which includes 19,840 retrospective cases (reported late due to the NHLS’s technical problems) and 18,035 new cases, on Sunday night.

The NICD said that between Saturday and Sunday, 18,035 Covid-19 cases were reported. The positivity testing rate today is 28.9%.

“In South Africa, private and National Health Laboratory Service public laboratories perform Covid-19 testing. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases collects the Covid-19 data as part of its public health surveillance activities. The NICD relies on test reports from both private and public laboratories to generate daily Covid-19 statistics, including the number of new cases, new tests and percent positivity rate.

“The NICD was informed in the previous week that information technology challenges had been experienced by public sector laboratories, which have resulted in reporting delays. Some Covid-19 surveillance data may take longer to reflect on the national line list.

“The NICD… will continue to update Covid-19 surveillance databases retrospectively as the impacted public laboratories remedy the existing IT difficulties. This will result in retrospective data being processed on to the line list, increasing the cumulative number of tests,” said the NICD’s Sinehlanhla Jimoh.

The latest available results on Monday afternoon showed that the majority of new cases from Sunday were from Gauteng (42%), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (16%). Western Cape accounted for 13%; Eastern Cape and Free State each accounted for 6%; Mpumalanga and North West accounted for 5% each; Limpopo 4% and Northern Cape 2%. 

She said the current national positivity rate of 28.9% is a significant increase from Saturday, when it was 16.4%. DM/MC

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