Scientists sound warning on UK mass-testing

Scientists sound warning on UK mass-testing
Boris Johnson
LONDON, NOV 16 (AGENCIES/IANS) | Publish Date: 11/16/2020 12:53:34 PM IST

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans for mass COVID-19 testing that might re-open large parts of the economy, known as “Operation Moonshot”, are likely to be ineffective and expensive, scientists concerned about the scheme said on Monday.

The scientists said that the government’s plans signalled a change in strategy from the “test and trace” scheme that has been plagued by difficulties, but that screening the general population regularly would throw up new problems.

“The evidence for screening is not there. The evidence around the tests is poor and weak at the moment, and needs to be improved,” Professor Allyson Pollock, Clinical Professor of Public Health, University of Newcastle, told reporters

“We’re arguing the moonshot programme really should be paused, until the cost effectiveness and the value for money of any of these programmes is well established.”

Pollock, along with colleagues from universities in Birmingham, Warwick and Bristol, warned that ineffective testing strategies and inaccurate tests could endanger confidence in testing more generally.

The scientists said that the priority should be improving the test and trace system, adding that a lack of accuracy in the rapid tests could give false reassurance to people that they weren’t infectious.

The government last week published results of an evaluation of an Innova rapid test, which it said detected around 75% of positive cases, rising to 95% of individuals with high viral loads.

Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics at University of Birmingham, said that analysis of the results showed that it might miss between 25-50% of positive cases, giving false reassurance to people who test negative.

He also said that the higher proportion of people testing positive with larger viral loads did not mean that the most infectious people could be reliably identified by the test.

“The arguments that we’re hearing, and these have been said by the Prime Minister, that this test can tell the difference between infectious and non-infectious is not substantiated by any data,” Deeks said. “There is no data out there to show this.”

Johnson self-isolates after Covid-19 contact
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus earlier this year, on Monday announced that he was self-isolating after “being in contact with someone with Covid-19”.
Taking to Twitter, the Prime Minister said: “I’ve been instructed by our NHS Test and Trace scheme to self-isolate for two weeks, after being in contact with someone with Covid-19.
“I’m in good health and have no symptoms, and will continue to lead on our response to the virus and our plans to #BuildBackBetter.”
In a video, also posted on the micro-blogging platform, Johnson said that he was “pinged” by the NHS Test and Trace on Sunday and was asked to self-isolate as a precautionary measure.
“We have got to interrupt the spread of the disease and one of the ways we could do that now is by self-isolating for 14 days when you get contacted by NHS Test and Trace,” Johnson said in the video. “I am absolutely confident that together we can beat this disease. Don’t forget hands, face, space, get a test if you have symptoms,” he added.
According to a BBC report, the Prime Minister on November 12 spent about 35 minutes with Conservative MP Lee Anderson, who lost his sense of taste the next day.
On Sunday, Anderson announced that he was self-isolating with his wife after they both tested positive for the virus.
In April, Johnson spent three nights in intensive care after contracting the disease.
He later said it “could have gone either way” and thanked healthcare workers for saving his life.
The development comes as England is currently under a national lockdown, the second of its kind since the onset of the pandemic in the UK, aimed at curbing the resurgence of new Covid-19 cases.
As of Monday, the UK’s Covid-19 caseload and death toll stood at 1,372,884 and 52,026, respectively.

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