Thousands of coronavirus home test kits not sent back, UK testing coordinator says

Imogen Braddick
Mitch Wilkins is tested at a drive through testing facility for COVID-19 at Edinburgh Airport as Nicola Sturgeon considers beginning lifting lockdown restrictions from May 28: PA

Thousands of coronavirus home testing kits have not been sent back, the Government’s testing coordinator has admitted.

Some 762,252 tests have now been posted to people’s homes but Professor John Newton said not all had been returned for analysis.

He told the Science and Technology Select Committee on Friday that more than half had been returned, but he did not have an up-to-date figure.

He added: “I think certainly more than half, and we would like to get that amount up.

“A lot of the ones which were counted as they left were not home tests, they were the satellite tests sent out to care homes.”

When pressed on the current return rate, he said he would provide it to the committee after the session.

Prof Newton, who is also PHE’s director of health improvement, added: “I am afraid I don’t have that figure but it can be provided.”

The Government managed to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target but only by counting kits sent out, rather than only including completed tests.

It came as Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE’s medical director, told the committee that many hundreds of thousands of people had been exposed to coronavirus by the time testing and tracing was stopped around March 12.

Prof Newton said the testing plans were abandoned after a million cases of Covid-19 were predicted across the UK, and the decision was taken by ministers.

He said there had been a discussion in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which established that it would “not be worthwhile” to continue contact tracing once community transmission took hold in the UK.

The decision in March to abandon it was made by Government informed by all its advisers, not just PHE, he said.

“When in March it became apparent that community transmission was occurring and we had multiple injections, introductions from different countries in the UK, that decision was then enacted,” Prof Newton told MPs.

“It was a decision of course of Government, informed by all its advisers, not just Public Health England.”

He added: “The epidemiology was crucial, we had an increase in the number of cases in March.

“The advice from modellers was that within a short period we would expect to be having a million cases in the UK, and of course if you have a million cases there’s no way, however much contact tracing or testing capacity you have, that you can pursue the South Korea model.

“At that point, the Government made the decision to move to lockdown as the most appropriate response to the epidemiology in the UK at the time.”

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