The challenges of establishing adequate capacity for SARS‐CoV‐2 testing


David W Smith

Medical Journal of Australia, published online 13 May 2020. DOI:


The response to COVID‐19 in Australia has been impressive, but our laboratory capacity must be used wisely

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19), has spread rapidly throughout the world from its origins in China in late 2019; the COVID‐19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020.1 It is the seventh coronavirus known to have crossed from animals to humans, and may become the fifth to persist as an endemic human coronavirus.2

More than three and a half million laboratory‐confirmed COVID‐19 cases had been recorded around the world by early May 2020, including 6801 in Australia.3 There has been no clear evidence of sustained community transmission in Australia, and the number of new cases is declining rapidly. Early diagnosis has been critical for successful contact tracing, isolation, and quarantining measures, and the impact of inadequate testing capacity has been seen in countries experiencing major crises, such as the United Kingdom.4

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  1. World Health Organization. Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID‐19). Updated 24 Apr 2020. (viewed Apr 2020).
  2. Zhang Y‐Z, Holmes E. A genomic perspective on the origin and emergence of SARS‐CoV‐2. Cell 2020; 181: 223–227.
  3. Australian Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID‐19) health alert. Updated 3 May 2020.
  4. Iacobucci G. Covid‐19: UK government calls on industry to help boost testing capacity to 25 000 people a day. BMJ 2020; 368: m1118

Related Research Areas

  • Laboratory research
  • Public health research