BACKGROUND: Accurate detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is necessary to mitigate the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, the test reagents and assay platforms are varied and may not be sufficiently robust to diagnose COVID-19. METHODS: We reviewed 85 studies (21,530 patients), published from five regions of the world, to highlight issues involved in the diagnosis of COVID-19 in the early phase of the pandemic, following the standards outlined in the PRISMA statement. All relevant articles, published up to May 31, 2020, in PubMed, BioRiXv, MedRiXv, and Google Scholar, were included. We evaluated the qualitative (9749 patients) and quantitative (10,355 patients) performance of RT-PCR and serologic diagnostic tests for real-world samples, and assessed the concordance (5,538 patients) between methods in meta-analyses. RESULTS: The RT-PCR tests exhibited heterogeneity in the primers and reagents used. Of 1,957 positive RT-PCR COVID-19 participants, 1,585 had positive serum antibody (IgM +/- IgG) tests (sensitivity 0.81, 95%CI 0.66-.90). While 3,509 of 3581 participants RT-PCR negative for COVID-19 were found negative by serology testing (specificity 0.98, 95%CI 0.94-0.99). The chemiluminescent immunoassay exhibited the highest sensitivity, followed by ELISA and lateral flow immunoassays. Serology tests had higher sensitivity and specificity for laboratory-approval than for real-world reporting data. CONCLUSIONS: The robustness of the assays/platforms is influenced by variability in sampling and reagents. Serological testing complements and may minimize false negative RT-PCR results. Lack of standardized assay protocols in the early phase of pandemic might have contributed to the spread of COVID-19.