The Canary Islands Government have now made clear that they will authorise the use of rapid antigen tests in the screening of tourists, news which will provide a boost and some much needed confidence, moving forward, for an industry which accounts for 40% of GDP in the archipelago, and which has been devastated this year due to the various measures employed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canary Islands Ministry of Health is preparing instructions to include this diagnostic technique, among the other options, for those visitors checking in to regulated tourist accommodation in the archipelago, detailing specifics for the required certificate to show negative results for a COVID-19 detection test before being allowed to stay in hotels, apartments or vacation homes on the Islands.  Travellers who have not been able to acquire a test result within the 72 hours before arrival will be directed to local healthcare providers who can supply the test, costing an estimated €25-30 per person.

Health experts had questioned the validity and accuracy of the antigen test for tourists, that the Canary Islands Government have sought to implement over the coming week or so, following the General Directorate of Public Health’s publishing, on Monday last, of a resolution which did not advise the use of rapid antigen tests, except in cases either of patients who have presented symptoms within the previous five days or less, or else for suspected asymptomatic persons who have been identified as having had close contact with another confirmed positive case. It was made clear to journalists at Spanish language news portal CanariasAhora that, “with the current scientific evidence, the most suitable test” for the screening of tourists continues to be the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).

Confusion arose within the tourism sector, as the Minister for Tourism had stated her preference for rapid antigen tests in the screening strategy for two fundamental reasons: They are faster; with results possible within just 15 minutes, compared to the 24 to 48 hours needed for PCR test results, during which time tourists could have had to remain isolated until given the all clear, and the rapid antigen tests are much cheaper, costing just €25-30 compared to the average €100-120 costs for a PCR test at private clinics and laboratories. The new Extraordinary Tourist Measures Decree law, approved last week by the Governing Council, is set to come into effect for all visitors arriving after November 14 2020, making this the first Spanish destination to require such certification.  Similar tests are being trialled in the English city of Liverpool, where mass testing has now become available for anyone who wants it, regardless of whether they have displayed symptoms.  It is hoped such tests will lead to a significant improvement in how citizens can go about their daily lives in the face of the continuing pandemic and measures used to try to contain it.

The Canary Islands Ministry of Health now say that national and international visitors to the Islands will not be considered as “individual cases”, for which the use of rapid antigen tests are governed by limitations stipulated in the Public Health Department resolution published last Monday, but instead as a “target group” with a specific screening strategy for asymptomatic patients, as occurs, for example, with workers and others within healthcare or other social health settings.

The Carlos III Health Institute considers the possibility of using rapid antigen tests, although stipulate it may “be necessary to confirm positive cases by PCR, if the prevalence of the disease is low”.  It is widely agreed that antigen tests may need to be supplemented with further testing, however their preliminary acceptance as an initial indicator for travellers is hoped to lead to greater confidence among visitors and tourism businesses as the travel market struggles in the face of repeated stoppages in various countries across Europe and the world.

Microbiology specialists have previously warned that rapid antigen tests may not be the most suitable for screening. “This test [antigen] does not detect the virus if there is not much viral load. It is not recommended for screening,” María Lecuona , president of the Canary Islands Society for Clinical Microbiology (SCMC), told Canarias Ahora a few days ago, explaining that this technique is not as sensitive or effective as PCR and that it is most useful during the first five days of symptoms.

Despite this, the Health Ministry has decided to authorize the rapid antigen tests for tourist screening through an order that will complement the decree law establishing the obligation to take a COVID diagnostic test before staying in tourist establishments, making a judgment call based on the tests being sufficiently effective, although perhaps not the most effective available. “The Canary Islands will use the most suitable tests in coordination with the Ministry of Health, dependant on cases and according to the indications set by the General Directorate of Public Health”, said the Ministry in a statement, which also leaves the door open to other diagnostic techniques that have sufficiently “satisfactory clinical performance for the health authority”.

Used in parallel with the various strategies for the early detection of COVID-19, the Health Ministry insists on the continued need to comply with measures aimed at containing its spread: the mandatory use of masks, interpersonal distances, hand hygiene, and capacity controls.

Rapid Antigen Tests Available on Gran Canaria

rapid antigen tests at Hospitales San RoqueThe private-public partnership of the University Hospitales San Roque have been offering a range of coronavirus testing for some months now at their centres on Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, including the rapid antigen test at a base cost of just 25€ a time.

If you are interested in taking the rapid antigen test contact them by calling 928 012 631 (Price € 25)

Schools can receive discounted testing by writing to: (Price €15)

There are also discounts available for larger groups and for companies by writing to: (Price €20)

These tests are carried out at the Hospital de Vegueta and Maspalomas, as well as at Health Centers in Lanzarote and Vecindario . Check the conditions in the contacts indicated above. * The price for “schools” is for teachers who can demonstrate their current employment in a school and for students, so long as tests are organized by the school itself as a group. Otherwise, the price will be the normal cost for individuals.