The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has announced that Qatar has become one of the first countries in the world to launch a new saliva-based Covid-19 test for children.

The saliva-based test is less intrusive for children as it does not require a swab to be inserted into the nose and back of the throat like the current standard swab, the MoPH said on social media on Monday.

The official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported that the MoPH plans to introduce saliva-based Covid-19 tests for children from September 20 as part of a national testing programme to gain a better understanding of infection rates.

Saliva tests can be easily completed by transferring saliva from the mouth into a sample pot, the MoPH explained, adding that studies around the world have been looking at the use of saliva only swabs and the results have confirmed their effectiveness.

The MoPH will work in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) to carry out tests for all students in both government and private schools in Qatar and parental consent will be sought prior to any child being tested, according to the QNA report.

In a video posted by the MoPH, Dr Einas al-Kuwari, chairperson of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at HMC, said: "The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a gold standard test for diagnosing Covid-19 and is now available with an easier sampling method. The test can now be done by collecting a sample of the patient's saliva after spitting."

She continued, "This new method is very easy and highly accurate, and suitable for children and school students. It does not cause any kind of pain or fear for them. Therefore, we encourage all parents not to hesitate to have their children undergo the PCR testing to ensure they are free of the virus."

"As for adults, we will continue to collect nasal and throat swabs as usual," she added.

Dr Mariam Abdul Malik, managing director of PHCC, said: "We are pleased to be utilising the saliva-based Covid-19 test for children alongside our key partners, and we will be using this method throughout our four-to-six-week testing programme. The standard test used to date in Qatar has been the swab test, which requires a swab to be inserted up an individual's nose and to the back of their throat. This is very effective but some people, especially children, can find the process uncomfortable. Studies around the world have been looking at the use of saliva only and the results have confirmed their effectiveness."

"Since students returned to classrooms on September 1, we have identified a small number of positive cases among children and teachers. While any new case among children is of concern, it is important that we put this into context. Out of more than 350,000 students and over 35,000 teachers in Qatar, less than 0.2% have tested positive since schools reopened. This is a very low rate of infection among this population group," said Dr Hamad al-Romaihi, manager of Health Protection and Communicable Disease Control at the MoPH.

"As with all positive cases in Qatar, our track and trace teams have worked hard to identify where these positive cases among children and teachers were transmitted, and it is clear that they did not catch the virus in schools. Our surveillance shows they caught the virus outside of school settings, mainly at home during social gatherings," added Dr al-Romaihi.