The Italian health ministry added self-diagnosis kits to its list of approved methods of detecting coronavirus infection and approved them for sale in pharmacies, supermarkets and other shops.
The new tests still involve a nasal swab, but are quicker and less unpleasant than the ones carried out by healthcare staff – the cotton bud does not go into the nose as far – and will allow people to easily test themselves for Covid-19 at home.
However, if the home test comes back positive, people still need to get a PCR test to confirm the result.
This is because of the PCR test’s higher sensitivity, but also for isolation and contact-tracing purposes, and so that any variants can be identified.
The home testing kits, already being used in several other European countries, give results in around 15 minutes and can detect all currently known variants.
Each kit is expected to cost 6-8 euros in Italy, according to local media reports. The tests will be sold as single units and in packs of five or 20.
The autotest or ‘self-test’ was approved in a recent update by the health ministry and is expected to go on sale across the country by the first week in May.
Home testing kits are already in use in the UK, Austria, Germany and Portugal, while France also recently approved them for sale in pharmacies.
Italy has been hesitant, keen to ensure the kits were sufficiently accurate before approval.
Italy’s health ministry also gave the green light for pharmacies to begin performing rapid antigen swab tests, which give a result within 12-15 minutes.
The cost of these tests varies by region, but is expected to be around 20-30 euros on average.
Some Italian regions are already allowing rapid testing in pharmacies as part of an initial “experimentation” phase before the nationwide rollout.
As with home tests, if the rapid antigen test comes back positive a PCR test will be needed to confirm the result.
Free tests at train stations from May
Meanwhile, Italy’s Red Cross (Croce Rossa Italiana) plans to carry out up to 3,000 free rapid antigen swab tests a day across 11 of the country’s biggest cities from May.
It has already begun giving the tests at Rome’s Termini and Milan’s Centrale train stations, and plans to set up facilities at stations in nine more cities next month: Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Florence Santa Maria Novella, Naples Centrale, Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Turin Porta Nuova and Venice Santa Lucia.
“Without cost, age limit or medical prescription, anyone can undergo rapid antigenic swab testing,” at the facilities, the Red Cross said.