Minister for Planning Asad Umar on Wednesday announced that the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) is giving the go ahead to use antigen testing for COVID-19 patients to increase the country’s testing capacity. Taking to Twitter, Umar said the NCOC had approved the use of antigen testing in addition to the PCR tests currently being used throughout the country. “This is part of the strategy to increase the level of testing. The symptomatic cases will all still be administered PCR tests,” said the minister. He added that the decision is in line with the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO). What is antigen testing? According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antigen tests are “commonly used in the diagnosis of respiratory pathogens, including influenza viruses and respiratory syncytial virus”. “Antigen tests are immunoassays that detect the presence of a specific viral antigen, which implies current viral infection,” says the CDC. The CDC also said that the antigen tests can be used for screening testing in high-risk settings. It said that by carrying out repeat testing the test could quickly identify persons with coronavirus infection, leading authorities to take measures to control the virus and prevent transmission. NCOC makes masks mandatory in public Separately, NCOC, in a statement, said wearing masks is mandatory for people leaving their homes and also made it compulsory for everyone to wear masks in government and private offices. “Masks should also be used in markets and shopping malls,” said the NCOC. It also shared that, so far, authorities have imposed 4,374 lockdowns in 11 cities of Pakistan. Read more: Alarm bells ringing at NCOC as all indicators turn red The NCOC issue the directive as the country reported 825 cases and 14 deaths due to the coronavirus in the previous 24 hours. ‘Strict coronavirus restrictions inevitable’ On Tuesday, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan said that strict coronavirus restrictions are inevitable given the rise in COVID-19 deaths and the positivity ratio across Pakistan. The premier’s aide said that a few weeks ago, 400-500 cases were being reported across the country daily. The tally, he said, had shot up to 700-750 cases of the infection per day. “The Coronavirus death rate has increased in the country,” he said, adding that that the positivity ratio had surged to 2.5-2.75%. Dr Faisal said that the masses were not adhering to coronavirus precautions as they should, given the pandemic was still far from over.