The first Covid mass testing trial in the UK is underway in Liverpool with the city’s 500,000 people urged to take part in what the mayor called “an incredible opportunity to turbo-charge our efforts to reduce coronavirus in the city.”
Some 2,000 soldiers have been called on to assist the trial and administer tests in up to 85 centres over a ten day trial period, which might be extended.
If successful the scheme will be rolled out across the country with 10 million tests each day the aim of the government’s £100 billion Operation Moonshot project.
‘Potential for harmful diversion of resources and public money is vast’
Boris Johnson has pledged a “massive expansion” of the project but some health experts have already derided the trial as “an expensive mess that does more harm than good” as it goes against Sage advice to prioritise tests for people with symptoms.
Five public health experts wrote to Liverpool MPs stating that “searching for symptomless yet infectious people is like searching for needles that appear transiently in haystacks”.
The letter continued: “The potential for harmful diversion of resources and public money is vast. Also of concern are the potential vested interests of commercial companies supplying new and as yet inadequately evaluated tests.”
City council and Dept of Health working together
Liverpool was put into tier 3 restrictions on October 14 but the case numbers remain among the highest in the country. The city council invited the Department of Health and Social Care to collaborate on a mass testing pilot and the council remains as the lead partner, supported “operationally” by central government.
The pilot test aims to identify people who are asymptomatic and may unknowingly spread the virus throughout their community.
The scheme is designed to find positive cases so people can isolate to help curb the virus.
Liverpool embraces mass testing pilot
Queues for tests have been described as “snaking down streets” across media reports and mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson – whose brother recently died with Covid-19 – said: “The people of Liverpool did not let us down on the first day and I am delighted that so many people turned out for a test.
“This is a huge logistical exercise the likes of which has not been tried before, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank people for their patience and understanding as I know many had to queue for a while for a test.
Director of public health Matthew Ashton thanked participants said: “It is really heartening to see how the people of Liverpool have truly embraced this.
“With a huge project like this which we have pulled off in record time there are bound to be teething issues and we won’t get everything right.
“We are tweaking and making changes all the time to make the process more efficient for people and must focus on our ambition: to quickly identify people who have the virus and reduce transmission substantially.”
‘It’s key to getting back to normality’ says metro mayor
The ‘metro’ mayor of the Liverpool city region Steve Rotherham tweeted: “Quick, regular mass testing is key to getting the virus under control, easing the pressure on the NHS and getting back to some sort of normality.
“You don’t have to get tested, but it really is our best way of getting out of restrictions.”
Rotherham also retweeted the TUC North West’s call for Liverpool employers to “do the right thing” and support workers who may be told to isolate during the mass testing trial.