The UK government’s mass screening program for Covid-19 is a “misguided policy” that could actually lead to an increase in the transmission of the virus, experts have warned.
Dr. Angela Raffle and Dr. Mike Gill, public health advisor with experience in both communicable disease control and screening programs, said people with coronavirus symptoms may be “tempted” to bypass lab-assessed PCR tests and instead use the less reliable lateral ones -Flow kits to be used under the Operation Moonshot program.
They added that this could potentially lead to an “increase in transmission” as people with symptoms could be “falsely calmed” by the quick turnaround tests.
The guidelines state that a person who has symptoms of Covid-19 – including a fever, new and persistent cough, or loss or change in their sense of taste or smell – should have a PCR coronavirus test that will be examined in a laboratory.
Dr. Raffle and Gill said, “As with other screenings, the temptation for people with symptoms to opt for unsupervised, rapid, and lower-sensitivity self-tests can result in false confirmation, which can lead to a possible increase in transmission.”
The scientists said the cost-benefit of testing the nation twice a week was “unknown” and “no plans exist to measure it”.
In an editorial published in the British Medical Journal, they argued that there is no empirical data to support mass screening.
And home self-tests “were not rated,” they added.
They said the UK was an “outlier” because it placed so much emphasis on asymptomatic mass screening.
The scientists pointed to the justification of the screening program on the basis of people with Covid-19 who were not symptomatic, and said that there is growing evidence that the transmission is “predominantly” from people with symptoms and their contacts.
Meanwhile, they argued that the asymptomatic tests “skewed” nationwide statistics on test numbers, cases, and positivity rates.
They said the UK should learn from last year’s experience, adding, “Both the laboratories and the rapid tests could aim to provide a much more effective and cost-effective testing service based on public service principles for sound assessment . strong ethics, high quality and full transparency. “
On Wednesday, Professor Anthony Harnden, vice chairman of the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI), said people who are vaccinated and using rapid Covid-19 tests are “not invincible”.
“Having a positive lateral flow test is very helpful in the sense that you know you need a PCR and you may have an infection and be contagious to other people,” he told the Science and Technology Committee.
“The problem is a negative lateral flow test. It doesn’t mean you aren’t necessarily infected.
“I think everyone has to be careful and just because you have been vaccinated and just because you have a negative side flow test doesn’t mean you are invincible because those tests aren’t perfect.
“As the prevalence of infection in the population decreases, the predictive value of all these tests naturally also becomes problematic. So I would say they are helpful as part of the arsenal of tests and exams and vaccines and everything else, but they shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. “