British govt faces pushback on mass COVID-19 testing plan

Jan 27 2021 06:00 PM
British govt faces pushback on mass COVID-19 testing plan

Two sources close to the testing programme stated that Scientists and advisers are resisting British government plans to test the population for COVID-19 to boost efforts to reopen the economy because they have concerns about the widespread use of rapid tests.

Under growing pressure to chart a way out of England's third national lockdown and facing criticism of his handling of the pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants accelerate efforts to get children back to school and revive businesses. A plan under discussion in govt for some time is to test much of the population, with the aim of reducing transmission of the virus by finding and isolating more of the one-in-three people with COVID-19 who display no symptoms.

But that plan is being held up, they said, by scientific and clinical experts and policy advisers, some of whom question whether the flaws in the rapid tests outweigh the benefits. One source said previous dates pencilled in for launching nationwide testing had been and gone, while the other said officials in the test and trace programme were preparing "just in case" for next month but were doubtful it would come to pass.

Some in government say testing of the whole population could help contain the virus while the vaccine roll-out continues, with the two in tandem seen as key to the lifting of restrictions. The lateral flow tests have already been made available to staff in the National Health Service (NHS) and care homes, to schools, colleges and universities, and are being rolled out to local authorities. Some firms are also joining the scheme.

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