Proficiency testing for SARS-CoV-2 in assuring the quality and overall performance in viral RNA detection in clinical and public health laboratories

Pathology. 2022 Jun;54(4):472-478. doi: 10.1016/j.pathol.2022.01.006. Epub 2022 Apr 16.


Diagnostic testing for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has undergone significant changes over the duration of the pandemic. In early 2020, SARS-CoV-2 specific nucleic acid testing (NAT) protocols were predominantly in-house assays developed based on protocols published in peer reviewed journals. As the pandemic has progressed, there has been an increase in the choice of testing platforms. A proficiency testing program for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 by NAT was provided to assist laboratories in assessing and improving test capabilities in the early stages of the pandemic. This was vital in quality assuring initial in-house assays, later commercially produced assays, and informing the public health response. The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Quality Assurance Programs (RCPAQAP) offered three rounds of proficiency testing for SARS-CoV-2 to Australian and New Zealand public and private laboratories in March, May, and November 2020. Each round included a panel of five specimens, consisting of positive (low, medium or high viral loads), inconclusive (technical specimen of selected SARS-CoV-2 specific genes) and negative specimens. Results were received for round 1 from 16, round 2 from 97 and round 3 from 101 participating laboratories. Improvement in the accuracy over time was shown, with the concordance of results in round 1 being 75.0%, in round 2 above 95.0% for all samples except one, and for round 3 above 95.0%. Overall, participants demonstrated high capabilities in detecting SARS-CoV-2, even in samples of low viral load, indicating excellent testing accuracy and therefore providing confidence in Australian and New Zealand public and private laboratories test results.

Keywords: Quality assurance; SARS-CoV-2; proficiency testing; viral detection.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • COVID-19* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Public Health
  • RNA, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics


  • RNA, Viral