The Government’s mass testing plan has been criticised as a waste of “time and money”, as MPs heard in some areas 10,000 people would need to be tested to find one positive case.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus heard evidence from experts on the benefits of mass testing using lateral flow tests (LFTs) for controlling the pandemic and hosting large events.
Seven days worth of rapid tests were made available for everyone in England for free earlier this month, through both an online ordering system and a new "Pharmacy Collect" service.
Layla Moran, chair of the APPG, said mass testing “seems to be the panacea at the moment” for the Government, but questioned “how reliable is it?”
Professor Jon Deeks said there is “no evidence” to show mass testing works. “For this mass test, the Innova test, we have the Liverpool study and the University of Birmingham study, that’s a total of 78 cases where we know how well it detects (positive cases)," he said.
“That is absolutely outrageous that we are now testing the whole population based effectively on data from 78 people, which actually showed it doesn’t work very well."
If those cases were not tested at all they would have been missed, he added, so the tests have “some benefit but at what cost?”
“In the South West at the moment, I think we are down to 0.09 per cent prevalence and that probably means we would be using 10,000 tests to find one case in the next few weeks,” Prof Deeks said.
“I don’t think that’s a good use of people’s time or money or public health capital to do that. There are far better things we could be doing,” such as fixing test and trace, he added.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “ Around one in three people with COVID-19 experience no symptoms and rapid testing is playing a significant role in our coronavirus response.”