When a positive test isn't actually positive, people's lives can be disrupted, especially if they have important appointments in the next few days. Most residents who find themselves in a similar situation criticise health entities for not providing an adequate response. In fact, many people who have had false positive results with rapid Covid-19 antigen tests that turned out to be negative have spent a long time waiting to be “cleared” even though they were not infected.

False positive

This was the case of Vanessa, she was doing well, without any symptoms, when her grandmother - who was planning to travel - went to a clinic to be tested. She was shocked when the result came back positive as she has had no risky contacts and was feeling well.

The clinic administered another test to make sure she was infected and the positive result was maintained. According to Vanessa, it was the first mistake they made, because “the nurse didn't perform her job well - after my grandmother's first positive test, she should have done a PCR test, but she did another antigen test”.

After these two positive tests, the entire family (Vanessa, her grandmother, and her grandfather) were automatically quarantined. Two days later, they did a PCR test, which was negative for all three. However, they confirmed what they suspected – both antigen tests had false results.

Despite the good news, they remained isolated as they had no response from SNS 24. “As they didn’t call us again, I phoned SNS 24 and they told us that our tests were not false positives and that although the PCR was negative, we still had a 14-day quarantine to face. Then, after a while, a doctor called with a different opinion. Then another physician called saying that he was in charge and that it was a false positive. In addition, he took us out of the system”.

However, this situation had unfortunate effects on Vanessa's life. Because of the time she was stuck at home, she missed a job interview due to the time she spent waiting for the doctor's statement to get back to her normal life. "Above all, the biggest obstacles I felt were from SNS24 because they didn't know how to handle the situation and they didn't have enough information to provide."

Missed flights

But Vanessa is not the only one. Last week, a US citizen who was trying to return to the US was stopped when he tested positive at a pharmacy in Olhão. His father is a resident in the Algarve and spoke to The Portugal News, lamenting the lack of response from health authorities in Portugal.

“He did a Covid-19 test because he was planning to fly - he had no symptoms of Covid-19 and no contact with infected people. The test was administrated and a few hours later the pharmacy sent us an email with a negative result but 10 minutes later he received another email with a positive result”, which made them think that something must be wrong.

Then he told us that he emailed the pharmacy saying he didn’t understand what was going on, to which they responded by saying that they made a mistake, but assured that the result was positive. The Portugal News contacted the pharmacy staff, who said that the test result was positive. However, as most tests came back negative, a “muscle memory” led the team to make a small mistake, which they corrected minutes later with apologies.

However, after that, they bought several self-tests, but they were all negative. “It was an obvious false positive. I called the pharmacy to find out what to do next and I called SNS number 24 and they said we had to go the next day to the Olhão Health Centre, which we did, but it was completely full and we had to go back the day after. So we came back on Sunday (meanwhile he missed the flight) and we were seen by a doctor who didn't know why we were there, even though my son had been sent by SNS 24.”

All in all, he did a PCR test and the result was (as they expected) negative. However, more than seven days later this young man still does not have his “declaração de alta”, which is the document that says he does not have Covid-19 and does not need to be isolated. At that moment, they were unable to speak to the doctors who must give the declaration he needs. “The system is a nightmare,” they said.

SNS 24 breaking records

In fact, on 12 January, the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, admitted that line SNS24 is having problems in providing a satisfactory answer. However, since the beginning of the year, SNS24 has already received more than 850,000 calls, which, in her opinion, “shows that it is helping a lot of people”.

The Portugal News tried to contact the Directorate-General of Health but at the time of going to press we had no response.


Paula Martins is a fully qualified journalist, who finds writing a means of self-expression. She studied Journalism and Communication at University of Coimbra and recently Law in the Algarve. Press card: 8252

Paula Martins