A passenger arriving into Hong Kong International Airport gets his temperature checked by a worker using an infrared thermometer, following the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, China, February 7, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

How reliable are forehead infrared thermometers for Covid-19 screening in South Africa?

Infrared (forehead) thermometers are widely used to screen people for high fever, one of the symptoms of the coronavirus, to identify people that may be infected thereby reducing the risk of spreading the virus in workplaces, schools, and public areas. Since an elevated temperature does not conclusively indicate a Covid-19 infection, further medical evaluation is necessary to determine if a person is infected.
However, many questions have been raised by businesses about the reliability of the measurement results obtained from such thermometers. Several factors influence the accuracy of these measurement results, including the type of instrument used, the accuracy of the thermometer (obtained through calibration), the measurement procedure followed, ambient conditions, etc.
The National Metrology Institute of South Africa (NMISA), has established a platform where a Team of Experts, representing the relevant public entities as well as private calibration laboratories, are able to review and provide reliable responses to topical temperature screening related questions.
Mandated by the Measurement Units and Measurement Standards Act, 2006 (Act No. 18 of 2006), NMISA provides for the accuracy and international recognition of local measurement results. This enables trade, component manufacturing, legal acceptance of measurement results for law enforcement, accurate measurement in environment and safety, and is crucial for health care.
NMISA is part of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s (the dtic), family of the Technical Infrastructure (TI) Institutes, which also include the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), National Regulator for Compulsory Specification (NRCS) and the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS), that together provides for confidence in local goods and products and allows for successful prosecution in cases of non-compliance.
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