JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa has a backlog of more than 96,000 unprocessed specimens awaiting coronavirus tests, the health ministry said on Friday, reflecting what it called a global shortage of test kits.

The country has taken some of the most decisive measures on the African continent to tackle the spread of the virus, conducting the most tests and imposing one of its strictest lockdowns.

But it is finding it hard to ramp up testing as much as it would like because some global suppliers are unable to meet its demand for laboratory kits, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in parliament this week.

South Africa had recorded 27,403 confirmed coronavirus cases and 577 deaths as of Thursday, out of some 655,000 people tested.

The health ministry said in a statement that as of May 25, the latest date for which it gave data, unprocessed specimens awaiting tests stood at 96,480.

“This challenge is caused by the limited availability of test kits globally,” it said.

There was a backlog of 101,007 unprocessed throat swabs and saliva samples on May 21 and 58,930 on May 14. The ministry said it was prioritising processing tests for patients admitted in hospitals and healthcare workers, while also collecting specimens from community screening.

“The whole world is scrambling to get all the kits, the laboratory kits, and that’s where we are actually getting squeezed now,” Mkhize told parliament.

“We need society to understand that this is now becoming a constraint. It’s not so much our capacity, more than it is about whether the global suppliers are able to respond to our requests.”

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Tom Brown)