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Coronavirus Update: At-home COVID test performance worsened after omicron emerged; Lancet commission slams global pandemic response


The performance of certain COVID home-testing kits seems to have deteriorated after the omicron variant emerged, according to a new study published Thursday by the British Medical Journal.

The study focused on three widely used rapid antigen tests and found that just one met the World Health Organization’s standard of at least 80% sensitivity, based on its ability to correctly identify a positive sample, and at least 97% specificity, based on its ability to correctly identify a negative sample in patients showing symptoms.

“The researchers found that the sensitivities of the three tests performed with nasal self-sampling decreased during the emergence of omicron, from 87% to 81% for Flowflex, 80% to 73% for MPBio, and 83% to 70% for Clinitest,” the BMJ said in a statement.

Performance improved when tests were conducted using both nasal and throat swabs, compared with just nasal swabs. However, only the MPBio test using nasal and throat swabs met the WHO’s standards.

The study involved 6,497 people aged 16 and over who presented at three COVID test sites in the Netherlands between Dec. 21 of 2021 and Feb. 20 of 2022.

The authors concluded that people with symptoms can rely on a positive rapid antigen test, but those with negative results should adhere to preventive measures because a false negative result cannot be ruled out.

“Given the less than ideal performance of antigen tests, updates to guidance in the public and private sector should take this into account when suggesting action based on test results,” said Timothy Feeney, research editor at the BMJ, and Charles Poole at the University of North Carolina, in an editorial in the journal accompanying the study.

The WHO on Thursday released a response to the recommendations of The Lancet COVID Commission’s report titled “Lessons for the future from the COVID-19 pandemic,” saying it generally aligned with the agency’s own commitment to stronger and greater pandemic preparedness.

The commission endorsed the WHO’s central role in global health and agreed it should be supported with an increased budget. It also highlighted how the pandemic exposed challenges such as “chronic under financing of the UN, rigid intellectual property regimes, a lack of sustainable financing for low- and middle-income countries, and “excessive nationalism,” which drove vaccine inequity.”

See also: Impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy is misleading

But the WHO pushed back against the report for failing to convey what it called the “full arc” of its response to the crisis from the moment in December of 2019 that it received the first alerts of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China.

The WHO has been criticized for moving too slowly in declaring a pandemic and warning about the human transmissibility of the virus.

The commission also said the WHO was too slow to support travel bans to prevent spread and too slow to endorse the use of face masks in public spaces, in recognition of the airborne transmission of the virus.

“A comprehensive and detailed list of actions taken by WHO during the COVID-19 response can be viewed in our interactive timeline,” the agency said in a statement.

The Lancet commission reserved much of its ire for governments for allowing so much disinformation to spread across social media and discourage people from getting vaccinated once vaccines were available.

“Too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency, too many people—often influenced by misinformation—have disrespected and protested against basic public health precautions, and the world’s major powers have failed to collaborate to control the pandemic,” the authors wrote.

The news comes as U.S. known cases of COVID are continuing to ease and now stand at their lowest level since early May, although the true tally is likely higher given how many people are testing at home, where the data are not being collected.

The daily average for new cases stood at 62,832 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, down 30% from two weeks ago. The daily average for hospitalizations was down 11% at 33,552 while the daily average for deaths is down 6% to 470. 

From the CDC: Stay Up to Date with COVID-19 Vaccines Including Boosters

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• In the first two years of the pandemic, the number of people working from home in the U.S. tripled, home values rose and the percentage of people who spent more than a third of their income on rent rose, according to a survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Associated Press reported. The survey found the share of unmarried couples living together also rose, Americans became more wired and the number identifying as multiracial grew significantly.

• The CEO of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has quit after a summer that descended into chaos and flight cancellations amid staff shortages in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, the AP reported separately. “I’ve done my very best, but we’re not there yet. I do hope it gets better soon,” CEO Dick Benschop said in a statement released by the airport Thursday, after he told the board of his decision on Wednesday night. He said he was stepping down “to give Schiphol the space to make a new start. I do not want attention on me to become an obstacle for Schiphol.”

• The Chinese city of Chengdu will lift a full COVID lockdown in all districts still facing strict curbs as a recent outbreak comes under control, local authorities said, Reuters reported. The news will come as a relief to the roughly 21 million people who have been locked down since Sept. 1 and have suffered an earthquake. Chengdu reported 29 new locally transmitted COVID infections on Wednesday, down from 35 a day earlier, according to city government data on Thursday.

• Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and first lady Britainy Beshear got COVID boosters in public on Wednesday, in an effort to encourage others to do the same, the AP reported. The Democratic governor urged Kentuckians to get vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus, and he called on leaders in government and other sectors to encourage people to get the shots.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 610.5 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.52 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 95.5 million cases and 1,052,233 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 224.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67.6% of the total population. Just 108.9 million have had a booster, equal to 48.6% of the vaccinated population, and 22.2 million of those 50 and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 34.3% of those who had a first booster.

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