Mass testing

What Are We Doing to Our Children?

There follows a guest post by Hugh McCarthy, a retired Headteacher in Northern Ireland who until recently served as a Director on two of the province’s main education councils and who remains a ministerial appointment on one. He is horrified by what society has inflicted on children over the past two years in the name of combating a virus from which they are not at risk – and all as the evidence piled up of how much it was harming them.

I welcome the recent Ofsted report highlighting the damaging effects of the Covid restrictions on the development and learning of young children. It highlights a huge range of damaging impacts, including:

  • delays in babies’ physical development
  • a generation of babies struggling to crawl and communicate
  • babies suffering delays in learning to walk
  • babies struggling to respond to basic facial expression.
  • toddlers struggling to make friends, with their speech and language, and toileting independently
  • regression in children’s independence 
  • children with limited vocabulary

The report also highlights the ongoing negative impact of face masks on young children’s language and communication skills, noting that those turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks and who have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes regularly.

The observations of Ruth Sedgewick, the Head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland, back up what the reports says.

The Terrible Cost of Mass Testing of Children

There follows a guest post by Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist Dr. Zenobia Storah, Professor of Psychology Ellen Townsend, Clinical Professor of Public Health Allyson Pollock and Psychotherapist Sarah Waters, who say children were subjected to all manner of unevidenced and harmful interventions during the pandemic, not least of which was frequent testing, and we must now prioritise their recovery and ensure it never happens again.

Twice-weekly asymptomatic testing for COVID-19 was introduced in secondary schools in the U.K. in January 2021. Although guidance was specific to secondary education, many primary schools, nurseries and pre-schools also requested routine testing of children in their care. Regular self-testing by students has also been required at colleges and universities.

In the last month, the Government removed its testing advice for staff and pupils in most schools. We welcome this change. Mass testing has been harmful for many, especially for children. Indeed, experts have cautioned against asymptomatic mass testing. The lack of evidence on impact on transmission, high costs, and likely diversion of resources from important activities such as mental health support have all been cited. Incredibly, even though mass testing is screening, the U.K. Government ignored the Wilson and Junger 1968 principles of screening and never sought the advice of the National Screening Committee. We are not aware of any evidence-base for this policy or any risk assessment regarding potential psychological or physical harms.

Swabbing for either PCR or lateral flow devices (LFDs) is an unpleasant and invasive procedure that is distressing to children. In October 2020, when testing was introduced in Italian schools, paediatricians raised concerns about the risks posed by nasopharyngeal swabs, including the breakage of the swab with subsequent inhalation and possible injury to the nasal, oral and pharyngeal mucosa. Subsequently questions were raised in the European Parliament. Disappointingly there has been little interest in such concerns from professionals and policy-makers in the U.K.

Sajid Javid Opposes End of Free Testing

Boris Johnson is due to address MPs about the lifting of the ‘last’ restrictions at 4:30pm. However, there was a glitch this morning as the Cabinet meeting to finalise the plan was delayed because of a reported standoff between Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, and Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary. Mr. Javid – a former sceptic who seemed to go native within hours of taking up the post in June – is said to want free testing to continue. The Telegraph has more.

The Treasury and Department of Health have been at loggerheads in recent days over the cost of some of the measures in the Living with Covid Plan, which is due to be announced by the Prime Minister in the Commons this afternoon.

Treasury officials are worried about the continuing cost of free Covid tests, which Boris Johnson has said is costing the country around £2 billion a month. 

Mr Sunak has said that any money for testing beyond March must come from the existing health budget.

But Mr Javid thinks testing should continue for more people, for longer, and has requested additional funds from the Treasury to pay for it.

As a former Chancellor and (former) sceptic, Mr. Javid should really know better than to want to drag out the Omnicold ’emergency’ by perpetuating the costly nonsense of constant testing. Let’s hope the sceptical and financially prudent voices win out in the Cabinet meeting that is now underway.

Worth reading in full.

Meanwhile, Sir John Bell – Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and a member of the expert advisory group to the Vaccine Taskforce – has said it’s time to “step back” from Covid restrictions “and get on with life”. The Telegraph has more.

Free Covid Testing to End

Free PCR and possibly also lateral flow tests will be axed within weeks as part of Boris Johnson’s plan to live with Covid, though tests are likely to remain free for vulnerable people and within hospitals and high-risk settings. The Sun has the story.

Brits are currently told to get a highly-accurate PCR test after coming into contact with someone with Covid, but this advice is also set for the chop as the nation gets back to normal.

PCR tests which were previously needed for travel could cost more than £100 privately.

Free lateral flow kits could also be scrapped under money-saving plans reportedly being pushed by the Treasury.

Everyone would have to start paying for rapid self-tests except the oldest age groups, according to the Guardian.

People who catch the virus would also stop being told to take an LFT on days five and six to further reduce their use.

Ministers are poring over a menu of Covid options this week before making final calls.

The PM is desperate to end all Covid rules – including the legal duty to self isolate – by the end of the month.

Government insiders said PCR tests were hugely expensive and were less needed now cheaper lateral flow tests are widely available.

Advice for workers to take lateral flow tests regularly will also be scrapped.

And ministers may also scale down the Office for National Statistics Covid monitoring programme, which tests a sample of the population every week to find out how widespread it is.

Pity it appears some recommendations to test will remain, despite Omnicold plainly not warranting any special consideration as a contagious disease.

Worth reading in full.

Government Suspends Access to Confirmatory PCR Tests for Asymptomatic LFT Positives, Raising Fears of False Positives Consigning Thousands to Their Homes

In what was presented as a relaxation of testing requirements, but is in fact a withdrawal of service, the UKHSA has announced that as of January 11th confirmatory PCR tests will no longer be recommended – and thus unavailable – for those who test positive on a lateral flow test (LFT) without symptoms. MailOnline has more.

Confirmatory PCR tests will no longer be needed for people testing positive for Covid on a lateral flow test, health chiefs confirmed today.

Previous guidance to back up positive rapid tests with more accurate lab results will be removed from January 11th.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced the move amid sky-high case numbers across England. 

The move will free up capacity in laboratories for PCR tests for those who have Covid symptoms.

People who receive a positive result on a lateral flow device (LFD) will be required to self-isolate immediately for seven days, without requiring PCR confirmation. 

UKHSA said this is a temporary measure while Covid rates remain high across the UK.

Officials said that while levels of Covid are high, the “vast majority” of people with positive LFD results can be confident they have the virus.

They estimated the number of “false positives” results, where people without the virus get a positive LFD result, are as low as three in 10,000.

However with just under 1.5 million of LFD tests being conducted across the UK every day this could lead to thousands of people who don’t have Covid having to isolate. 

People who have Covid symptoms, such as a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or change in sense of taste and/or smell should still get a PCR test, UKHSA said. 

UKHSA has said that LFTs are 80% effective at finding people with high viral loads of Covid. However, Professor Sheila Bird, a former programme leader of the MRC Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge, said the 80% figure is based on data from the Alpha and Delta waves. “For transparency, results for these Omicron-era dual-testing evaluations should be placed in the public domain at the earliest opportunity,” she said.

Anecdotally I have been told by several people that they tested positive on LFT but then subsequently tested negative on PCR. Some of them were symptomatic. They said the person on the phone at Test and Trace told them this was very common at the moment as the LFTs were cross-reacting with other viruses and producing false positives that the PCR test then overruled.

If this is the case – and I have no reason to doubt it – then despite the change being billed as a solution to the staffing crisis it will only make it worse as thousands of people have to isolate from LFT false positives for which no confirmatory PCR test is available.

Since mass testing of the healthy has clearly failed to contain the virus – with new figures from the ONS today showing that an estimated 6% of the country was infected at the end of December – and with so many protected via natural immunity and vaccination, and with Omicron so mild, the Government needs to end all mass testing without delay and limit testing to contexts, such as hospitals and care homes, where it is needed to diagnose illness and protect the vulnerable.

Stop Press: The Mail is reporting that the Government is set to scrap all pre-departure Covid traveller tests today in a boost for the tourism industry, while the airline industry is demanding the Government goes a step further and axes all travel tests. Good news – but is it not time to accept that mass testing no longer serves any useful purpose (if it ever did) and we need to end this expensive drag on our economy and lives?

Covid Testing Rules to Be Relaxed to Address Staff Shortages

Covid testing rules are to be relaxed as part of efforts to shorten isolation periods and ease staffing shortages, according to the Telegraph.

Fears are growing that staff absences have become as big a problem as Covid itself, with bin collections delayedtrains cancelled and 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester announcing on Tuesday that they would be suspending some non-urgent surgery, with 15% of staff off sick.

Millions of people who test positive on lateral flow devices will be told they do not need to take follow-up PCR tests, which currently delay the official start of isolation for hundreds of thousands.

Health officials have drawn up plans to limit PCR tests to those with Covid symptoms, allowing people who are asymptomatic – around 40% of cases – to return to work more quickly. More than 1.2 million people are isolating after testing positive in the last week, with hundreds of thousands more waiting for tests or results.

The changes, expected on Wednesday, come as more than half a dozen NHS hospital trusts have declared critical incidents. Call handlers at North East Ambulance Service were told in an internal memo to advise heart attack patients to get a lift to hospital, rather than wait for a 999 response.

Meanwhile, offices remained largely empty on the first working day of the new year. Schools said staff shortages in coming days could further damage children’s education, with as many as one in five staff missing at the start of the term.

The question is though, given that the virus is clearly everywhere and none of the measures have succeeded in containing it, why continue with mass testing of the healthy at all?

Worth reading in full.

Serco and Mitie Awarded New Testing Contracts That Could Last for 18 Months

The Government is sticking to its line that lockdown will end on July 19th and that this unlocking of restrictions will be irreversible. But, once again, its actions point in the opposite direction. Most recently, Serco and Mitie have been handed new testing contracts – worth up to £687 million collectively – to support the Test and Trace system. The contracts will run for 12 months but could be extended by another six. Reuters has the story.

The [Test and Trace] scheme, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged would be world-beating when he launched it with a £22 billion budget in May 2020, has repeatedly missed targets…

Serco’s contract, which is worth up to £322 million, covers services such as site operations, cleaning and security at around 20% of test sites in England and Northern Ireland, down from the roughly 25% of sites covered by its previous deal.

Mitie’s deal, worth up to £365 million, covers the management of around 28% of testing sites across England, Scotland and Wales, up from about 23% of sites in its former contract.

The two agreements are focussed on testing only but form part of the Test and Trace scheme, which oversees testing of people who think they have Covid, and then tracing contacts of those who test positive to require them to isolate.

While Serco also holds contracts for contact tracing, Mitie only looks after testing sites.

Parliament’s spending watchdog said on Friday the scheme had improved but was still missing targets, and the results of millions of tests to find asymptomatic cases had not been reported.

Worth reading in full.

The Truth About the Covid ‘Crisis’ in India

Now that Chile is settling down a bit, the latest Covid cautionary tale is India, which never seems to be out of the news at the moment as its positive cases and deaths have rocketed in the past few weeks.

Even the usually level-headed Kate Andrews in the Spectator has been painting the situation in lurid colours.

As it happened, the UK’s worst nightmares were never realised. The Nightingale hospitals built to increase capacity were barely used. But what the British Government feared most is now taking place elsewhere. India is suffering an exponential growth in infections, with more than 349,000 cases reported yesterday, as well as nearly 3,000 deaths. Hospitals are running out of oxygen for patients and wards are overflowing. There are reports of long queues as the sick wait to be seen by medical professionals. It’s expected the situation will deteriorate further before it gets better.

Jo Nash, who lived in India until recently and still has many contacts out there, has written a very good piece for Left Lockdown Sceptics putting the current figures in context – something no mainstream outlet seems to have any interest in doing.

Jo makes the crucial point that we need to keep in mind the massive difference in scale between India and the UK. At 1.4 billion people, India is more than 20 times larger than the UK, so to compare Covid figures fairly we must divide India’s by 20. So 2,000 deaths a day is equivalent to a UK toll of 100. India’s current official total Covid deaths of approaching 200,000 is equivalent to just 10,000 in the UK.

In a country the size of India and with the huge number of health challenges faced by the population, the number of Covid deaths needs to be kept in perspective. As Sanjeev Sabhlock observes in the Times of India, 27,000 people die everyday in India. This includes 2,000 from diarrhoea and 1,200 from TB (vaccinations for which have been disrupted by the pandemic). The lack of adequate hospital provision for Covid patients may be more a reflection of the state of the health service than the severity of the disease.

Jo Nash also points out that poor air quality plays a role.

Delhi, the focus of the media’s messaging, and the source of many of the media’s horrifying scenes of suffering, has the most toxic air in the world which often leads to the city having to close down due to the widespread effects on respiratory health…

Respiratory diseases including COPD, TB, and respiratory tract infections like bronchitis leading to pneumonia are always among the top ten killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises…

According to my contacts on the ground, people in Delhi are suffering from untreated respiratory and lung conditions that are now becoming serious. I’ve also had breathing problems there when perfectly healthy and started to mask up to keep the particulate matter out of my lungs. I used to suffer from serious chest infections twice yearly during the big changes in weather in India, usually November/December and April/May. When I reluctantly masked up that stopped. My contacts have reported that the usual seasonal bronchial infections have not been properly treated by doctors afraid of getting Covid, and people’s avoidance of government hospitals due to fear of getting Covid. Undoubtedly, these fears will have been fuelled by the media’s alarmist coverage of the situation. Consequently, the lack of early intervention means many respiratory conditions have developed life-threatening complications. Also, people from surrounding rural areas often travel to Delhi for treatment as it has the best healthcare facilities and people can go there for a few rupees by train. This puts pressure on Delhi’s healthcare system during respiratory virus seasons.

Positive cases look like they may be peaking in many regions now.

Boris is the Great Appeaser Who Caves in to the “Experts” at the Expense of Ordinary People

There follows a guest post by Dr Timothy Bradshaw, a retired Oxford Theological Lecturer.

Allegra Stratton, Boris’s replacement for Lee Cain as policy communicator in No.10, has gone, to the BBC as an eco-analyst, after a short spell of announcing nothing, maybe she offended Carrie too? And that communications room, fitted out for a couple of million, won’t be used. So that “reset” of No 10 has itself been reset, maintaining that sense of fairground chaos so beloved of our leader.

But his utterances are, as Janet Daley has shown in her Telegraph column, less and less convincing and being taken as incoherent by a growing number of intelligent people, not just “conspiracy theorists”. He bizarrely proclaimed that the successful lowering of Covid cases and deaths in the UK was not caused by the vaccination programme but by… the lockdowns, which therefore must remain the chief weapon against the epidemic – if the epidemic should return. Hence the shutting of the Nightingale hospitals and no plan for future epidemics being developed. As Daley said, this statement was surely plain wrong, and also politically a gaffe as it portrayed his one massive success as an irrelevance. It also would discourage the population from offering to be vaccinated, a Macronic blunder. Why this idiocy from our leader?    

“Save lockdowning” is the only credible answer, combined with the fact of Boris being, apparently willingly like Patty Hearst, held hostage by that strange and frightening gang of “experts”. Boris is in effect their glove puppet. Their latest utterance through him is that “a third wave is definitely coming” – “hurricane Boris” is building up in India and will soon be blowing us away. Really, or is this just more “precautionary” weather forecasting to get us to board up the economy again, more fear-inducing talk?

At present we can hardly be said to be in an epidemic, but the “experts” are very keen to keep finding Covid wherever they can, and so “save lockdowning”, as if hoping to keep this phenomenon going to maintain their grip on the population. 

The grotesque plan is to keep perfectly healthy and non-vulnerable people taking two home tests per week, followed up by a PCR test for positive results, and these go to a central lab. These tests are for the Covid “genome sequencing” programme and can hardly be defended as a sensible use of the health budget. It is predicated on scanning for and locking down any tiny group of people infected with a new variant, and not on getting a medically based plan for treating future SARS viruses. It is clearly in line with keeping the lockdown hammer available, permanently. 

Mass Covid Testing a “Waste of Time and Money”, MPs Told

Biostatistics Professor Jon Deeks has criticised the Government’s mass Covid testing plan as a waste of “time and money”, highlighting that in some areas only one positive case has been found after 10,000 tests. Professor Deeks, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Applied Health Research at Birmingham University, told the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus that there is “no evidence” to show mass testing works. He is quoted in the Telegraph:

“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).

“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…

“In the South West at the moment, I think we are down to 0.09% prevalence and that probably means we would be using 10,000 tests to find one case in the next few weeks.

“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.”

The APPG is chaired by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who said: “[Mass testing] seems to be the panacea at the moment… [but] how reliable is it?”

Earlier this month, the Government promised twice-weekly Covid tests for everyone in England. Sky News had the story.

The Government says the offer is currently for England only and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions.

A major marketing campaign encouraging people to take up the offer of twice-weekly lateral flow tests will also start in England this Friday…

The programme is effectively the long-delayed “Operation Moonshot” of 10 million Covid tests a day, costing an estimated £100 billion, promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last summer.

When he told the Commons it would start as early as December, MPs laughed, prompting Mr Hancock to brand them “nay-sayers” and telling them to “get with the programme”.

Now the Government says that alongside vaccination, regular Covid testing will be an essential part of easing lockdown restrictions and help quickly suppress the spread of variants.

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.