Everyone in England is to be offered two rapid COVID-19 tests per week as part of the Government’s plans to “ease” the lockdown. According to the BBC, these tests “are aimed at those without any Covid symptoms and can be taken at home”. The kits will be available through community and workplace testing schemes, as well as via local pharmacies and an online home-ordering service.
However, this seems like a huge waste of resources. Recall that the Government has already spent an eye-watering £22 billion on Test and Trace – a scheme that, at best, had only a marginal impact on transmission. The BBC quotes Allyson Pollock, Professor of Public Health at Newcastle University, as saying, “Mass testing is a scandalous waste of money.”
According to the ONS, around 50% of people in England now have COVID-19 antibodies, including more than 80% of those aged 65 and over:
This means that the vast majority of vulnerable people have at least some immunity to the virus. What would make more sense is focusing protection on those vulnerable people who have not yet had the virus or been vaccinated.
As the Great Barrington Declaration notes, this could be done via frequent testing of staff at care homes and hospitals, as well as by offering tests to those who want to visit elderly relatives living at home. (In a recent article for Lockdown Sceptics, I outlined what a focused protection strategy would have looked like.) At this stage of the pandemic, it’s difficult to see how mass testing of young, healthy people could possibly pass a cost-benefit test.
Stop Press: Matt Hancock has tweeted: “Reclaiming our lost freedoms & getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.” Yet back in January, he said it was vaccinating the vulnerable that would let us “Cry freedom”. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his interview with The Spectator:
When Covid hospital cases fall and pressure on the NHS is lifted, he says, “That is the point at which we can look to lift the restrictions.” So what about herd immunity, vaccinating so many people that the virus dies out? “The goal is not to ensure that we vaccinate the whole population before that point, it is to vaccinate those who are vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions.” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he – as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry freedom,” he replies.
The goalposts keep shifting. First it was vaccinate the vulnerable; then vaccinate everyone; now weekly mass testing… Will we ever be allowed to get back to normal?