VIENNA – Instead of delivering packages or food to people’s homes, around 130 bike messengers in Vienna have started delivering free PCR tests to people with COVID-19 symptoms so that they can be tested without ever leaving their homes.
Contracted by the City’s health authorities, couriers collect and deliver up to a thousand tests every day to different laboratories in the Austrian capital.
The results are returned within between 24 to 48 hours, and patients can check them on a website that can be accessed with a personalized PIN code sent by text message to their mobile phones.
GARGLE AT HOME
These PCR tests are performed using a gargle method developed by Austrian scientists, instead of the usual method of taking samples from the nose and throat.
Apart from being more convenient and comfortable for the user, the system does not require the participation of health workers, thereby saving human resources that may be needed elsewhere as infections rapidly increase and allowing more tests to be performed in less time.
Sample collection begins with a call to the toll-free 1450 number, which provides information on how to proceed if the person is showing symptoms or has been in contact with a confirmed positive case.
The user is then either referred to one of the two free testing centers in the city or asked to wait at home for the arrival of the bike messenger with the test kit.
The City of Vienna has contracted Veloce, a transport and delivery company, to provide the service.
A total of 130 messengers, either on bicycles or electric motorcycles, have been trained on how to protect themselves and how to ensure that the samples they collect are not contaminated.
Equipped with goggles, gloves and a mask, the couriers go to the addresses provided by the Vienna Health Service.
After checking their identity, they give users a tube with a reactive liquid that they must gargle in their mouths for one minute before spitting it out into a tube marked with an assigned, personalized barcode.
After visiting half a dozen patients, the courier takes the tubes, each packaged and identified separately, to a laboratory.
The main challenge to couriers is avoiding direct contact with the patients.
“Some people open the door, wearing a mask and keeping their distance, to make sure they don’t infect me,” Doris Hofer, one of the Veloce messengers, tells EFE. “Others open it and walk out as if nothing has happened. But I tell them very clearly to leave everything on the floor, that it is very important to follow all the rules.”
Hofer says that she collects up to 20 samples a day and that, although at first she was a little afraid of catching the disease, she is more relaxed now.
“I think the danger is greater in traffic, or in a supermarket, than working with the customers. Because I follow all the rules. At the moment I’m very relaxed and not afraid,” she says.
According to Veloce, all employees who are assigned to these services sign up voluntarily. Hofer says there is no bonus or salary supplement for those who carry and collect PCR tests.
Back in February, Vienna’s health services started organizing PCR tests at home, which at the time were carried out by doctors taking samples from the nose, in order to avoid infected people going to hospitals and further spreading the virus.
In September alone, the City Council conducted 30,384 home tests, plus the thousands that are performed every day at the city’s two free, drive through testing centers.
In the last seven days in Austria there have been 13,680 new cases of COVID-19, 25% of them in Vienna, which is home to a quarter of the country’s population.
Despite being the capital and the cultural and economic center of Austria, Vienna has lower per capita infection rates than rural regions such as Tyrol and Salzburg.