Day: 29 March 2021

Panorama “Breaks” Story on Cross-Contamination in Lighthouse Lab Covered by Lockdown Sceptics Last November

Better late than never I suppose. Tonight’s episode of PanoramaUndercover: Inside the Covid Testing Lab – reveals that staff at the Lighthouse Lab in Milton Keynes have been cutting corners and processing samples in a way that could lead to cross-contamination between test samples. Readers will recall that Lockdown Sceptics published an expose of the very same lab – “Heath and Safety Breaches at the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab” – by an ex-member of staff in November of last year. BBC News has more.

A BBC reporter working as a lab technician, filmed staff cutting corners and processing samples in a way that could cause contamination.

This means some people who had taken a test via NHS Test and Trace may have received no result or a wrong result.

The lab said it had followed all necessary rules and regulations.

Evidence at the lab captured on film shows:

* Checks to ensure samples could be identified, were rushed, meaning tests were sometimes discarded unnecessarily

* Some test samples “glooped” across an area where other samples had been placed, risking contamination

* Swabs used by people to take Covid tests were left in their tubes when processed, presenting a further contamination risk

* A quality control scientist telling the reporter that the quality of the results progressively got worse throughout the day

The findings have led experts to question the way the lab was operating.

The story on BBC News uses the phrase “potential contamination”, but, incredibly, does not use the phrase “false positives”, as if the contamination could be in both directions, with some positive becoming false negatives after being contaminated with material from negative test swabs. Obviously, that isn’t possible. The contamination is all in one direction – negative samples being contaminated with material from positive swabs, thereby becoming false positives.

What this Panorama story tells us is that the number of cases reported by PHE in England during the pandemic, which is partly based on the findings of Lighthouse Labs like the one in Milton Keynes, has been inflated thanks to cross-contamination in the labs.

The BBC story is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Dr Martin Evison, a retired Professor of Forensic and Biological Anthropology and occasional contributor to Lockdown Sceptics, has been in touch to comment on the BBC News story.

I don’t suppose this ‘news’ from the BBC will come as news to anyone who has worked on the PCR analysis of trace samples. It is exactly what one would expect from rushed high volume mass testing with limited and secretive verification.

The BBC article still hasn’t mentioned a key issue in relation to contamination – that is, the use of negative ‘blank’ controls. These should be included at key points in RNA extraction and analysis to establish that purification and PCR steps, test plates, manual or automated liquid handling and so on are free of intrusive SARS-CoV-2 RNA or derived DNA contamination. Blanks should be run regularly to measure background contamination in the laboratory or production line.

I made a futile attempt to find out what controls were being used via an FOI request some months ago, but didn’t get very far.

Judging by the article, it seems a decision was made just to accept an unknown amount of contamination for the sake of throughput in a way that would be unacceptable in forensic work, for example.

It does leave one wondering how much SARS-CoV-2 infection is really circulating when the positive test levels drop to their minimum and whether contamination could also be contributing to mis-classification of non-covid fatalities.

It’s interesting that this seems to be the first really critical and detailed science-related article the BBC have posted on the Government response to COVID. Why only now?

Will British Travellers to France Pose as Lorry Drivers to Avoid PCR Test Bill?

A reader has drawn attention to the likelihood of some people posing as lorry drivers to avoid paying hefty PCR test fees.

According to the Government’s website, lorry drivers and hauliers can now get tested while on the road.

This means that they can travel from services to services between drops and get tested according to the following rules.

When to get tested

You will need to take at least three tests, if you will be staying in England for 10 days or longer.

You must take the first test within two days of your arrival. The day of your arrival is counted as day zero.

You must take the second test three days after your first test and the third test three days after your second test.

So if your first test is on day one, your second test will be on day four and your third test on day seven.

If your first test is on day two, your second test will be day five and your third test on day eight.

Apparently, these tests are free.

I wonder what will happen if they put France on the “red list”, as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden seems to be considering… I suspect if you are a haulier you will still be able to come in from France – otherwise, where will all the food come from?

As has been seen from a previous LS post where the author set up a “removals” company and went skiing, one thinks this could be open to abuse.

I live five minutes away from the 24 hours South Mimms testing centre – I do wonder what is to stop me from getting free tests. Also, I wonder if van rentals will start popping up as members of the public suddenly become hauliers to find a reasonable excuse to go abroad!

Stop Press: In England, Lloyds Pharmacy is cutting costs for PCR tests to the bone by undercutting Boots by (wait for it!) £1! Its now only £119 per test with them, which means the cost of the PCR tests you’ll need to go on a trip to France has been slashed from £360 to £357. Bon voyage!

Holiday Ban Is a Kick in the Teeth for Tourism and Hospitality, Says Hotel Owner

English hotelier Sir Rocco Forte has written a scathing piece in the Mail about the Government’s ban on foreign travel. Covid rules which come into force today mean that it is illegal to go to an airport without a “reasonable excuse”, with rule-breakers facing fines of £5,000. Sir Rocco says that “this holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism”.

The past year has seen countless erosions of our once-cherished freedoms to deal with Covid. The latest is an incomprehensible ban on foreign travel. …

So-called “non-essential” foreign travel will be banned until at least June 30th – although, given the Government’s fondness for repeatedly extending restrictions into our freedoms, some doubt that even that date will be met. Former Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said last week: “I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.”

This holiday ban is yet another kick in the teeth for my industry, hospitality, and for the whole economy, which relies heavily on international trade and tourism. The UK is on course to have a tourism industry worth over £257 billion by 2025 – almost 10% of GDP and supporting almost 3.8 million jobs, about 11% of all the employment in this country.

Frankly, the Government’s approach makes no sense. In January, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told us we would be able to “cry freedom” when the most vulnerable in society had been vaccinated. In a great success story for the NHS, we have now inoculated more than 30 million people, giving protection to the groups that account for 99% of Covid deaths.

All our most vulnerable will have had the option of taking a second jab by the end of April – and we know the vaccines work.

But now the doom-mongers scare us with talks of “new variants” of the virus, even though viruses mutate all the time and most scientists say our existing vaccines could be tweaked to deal with them.

Exemptions to the Government’s travel restrictions are permitted for work, medical needs, education, weddings and funerals.

Sir Rocco points out that the cost of prioritising “beating” Covid above all else is greater than the cost of Covid itself.

The political calculation seems to be that the damage to the economy, the harm caused to mental health, a record NHS waiting list of 4.6 million (with the missed cancer diagnoses and other serious problems that brings), a huge surge in unemployment and bankruptcy can all be excused as long as ministers are seen to be doing everything they can to fight the virus. These are skewed priorities.

Instead, what we are going through now and will face in the near future is thanks entirely to Government decisions – and is an unmitigated disaster.

His concerns about the damage being done by Government regulations to the hospitality sector have been echoed by nine Conservative MPs who have written in today’s Times that “kneejerk demands to sacrifice an industry carry costs”.

Failing to reopen air travel would be devastating to exporters, as well as our tourism and hospitality sectors.

Sir Rocco’s piece is very much worth reading in full.

London Has Zero Covid Deaths on One Day for First Time in Six Months

Zero deaths from Covid have been reported in London for the first time in six months, according to Public Health England (PHE). BBC News has the story.

PHE figures for March 28th showed no deaths had been registered of patients within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

At the height of the crisis last April, about 230 deaths a day linked to the virus were recorded in London.

“This is a fantastic milestone, but we’re a long way from returning to normal,” one doctor said.

It is the first time the daily Covid figures have shown zero deaths in the capital since September.

Dr Jim Down of University College Hospital says that, while Covid cannot be forgotten about, the focus of hospitals should start shifting to the non-Covid health crisis.

We’re down to about seven Covid patients on the intensive care unit and we’re expecting them to get better.

It’s a wonderful feeling but it sets up new challenges. 

The backlog for people needing hip replacements and cancer treatment is vast. You need to start bringing them back in but keep the hospitals ready in case of a third wave.

Professor Karol Sikora has similarly stressed the urgency of dealing with the huge backlog of non-Covid patients.

Over the last year, politicians have been adopting untried and untested policies, the consequences of which none of us can yet fully grasp. The main aim, of course, of these extraordinary lockdown measures has been to suppress Covid in order to reduce pressure on our hospitals. That has been the metric on which Government approval has been judged.

Whether or not you agree with every restriction, it is clear that this focus has sucked the oxygen away from other pressing health issues. Covid required a response unlike anything we have seen in modern times. But was it right that this happen at the expense of so many other illnesses which have torn apart millions of families? 

Too often it has been framed as Covid or cancer; it does not need to be like this. We turned the country on its head to deal with this virus; we now need to tackle the non-Covid health crisis with the same vigour.

Currently, the number of people waiting to receive hospital treatment in England stands at 4.6 million (a record high).

Worth reading in full.

Tory Backbenchers Call for Aviation Sector to Be Reopened

Calls to keep the UK’s aviation sector closed this summer should be dismissed, according to a group of Conservative MPs, because of the damage this would do to the British economy. In a letter published in today’s Times, the nine MPs argue that while some restrictions could stay in place, such as Covid testing, the freedom to travel and do business must now be granted.

Sir, The UK’s aviation sector is facing calls to stay closed this summer, to guard against coronavirus variants. Kneejerk demands to sacrifice an industry carry costs. Failing to reopen air travel would be devastating to exporters, as well as our tourism and hospitality sectors. One person’s abundance of caution is another’s redundancy notice. This must be front and centre in the Government’s thinking as the Global Travel Taskforce makes its recommendations. With the Government’s great vaccination programme meaning that all over-50s will be vaccinated by mid-April and multiple confirmations from ministers and scientists that the vaccine protects against severe illness, even with the new variants, people will ask why we went to such efforts if it does not grant us the freedom to travel, trade and do business. We might not be able to travel immediately to every country. Testing can continue. But there is a sensible middle ground that allows us to move forward without fear. We entered lockdown together, and we must leave it together – hopefully some via an airport.

Andrew Bridgen MP
Julian Sturdy MP
Richard Drax MP
Steve Baker MP
Sir Graham Brady MP
Paul Maynard MP
Simon Jupp MP
David Davis MP
Henry Smith MP

Stop Press: Steve Baker also appeared on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s talkRADIO show this morning, and said that Boris Johnson must end the “doom loop” of lockdown.

News Round Up