Leicester hasn’t yet been able to start mass testing for Covid because of a logistical blunder that has meant 10,000 rapid swab kits local officials received are currently unusable, it was claimed today.
The East Midlands city signed up to No10’s ambitious scheme, in the hope of finally squashing the outbreak that has kept the city’s 360,000 residents effectively under lockdown since June.
But 10,000 of the tests local health bosses were sent have been rendered useless because they didn’t come with barcodes that would allow them to be traced back to the patient.
Sir Peter Soulsby, the city’s mayor, accused Downing Street of ‘sheer administrative incompetence’ over the cock-up, LeicestershireLive reported.
He said it was ‘utterly crazy’ that poor co-ordination had dealt a massive blow to the city’s hopes of bringing in mass testing, which the Government has raved about since a promising trial in Liverpool.
Department of Health officials said they were ‘aware of a logistics issue, which we are working urgently to resolve’.
Rapid tests are key to Downing Street’s Operation Moonshot plans to swab huge numbers of people to catch Covid-positive people who don’t have symptoms and stop the virus spreading under the radar.
Mass testing is one of the Government’s key plans for keeping coronavirus under control until enough of the population gets vaccinated (Pictured: A Covid testing site in Leicester)
Rapid tests were sent to Leicester without the necessary barcodes to track them through the laboratory system, local news reports (Pictured: A member of staff at a test site in the city)
LeicestershireLive also said the county council received another batch of 16,000 tests on Friday – but it is unclear if they came with barcodes.
Rapid testing was hailed a success in Liverpool, where the scheme weeded out people infected with coronavirus but without symptoms, who could have been spreading the illness without knowing.
The same prospect will be offered to millions of people living in Tier Three lockdowns from tomorrow, who will be able to get swab tested even if they don’t have symptoms.
Liverpool’s infection rate – the number of cases each week per 100,000 people – fell by almost two thirds in a month, between October 5 and November 8, when the city was in Tier Three and using rapid testing as part of its virus control measures.
As a result, the entire region – home to around 1.5million people – has escaped the toughest restrictions in the revamped tier system.
More than 200,000 people out of Liverpool’s approximately 500,000 had been tested as part of the rapid swabbing scheme by last Monday, the BBC reported.
Leicester’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby (pictured) said: ‘The fact they have provided us with the kits but not the barcodes is nothing short of utterly crazy’
EXPERTS SAY MASS TESTING MIGHT NOT HELP – AND THE TESTS AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH
Experts are divided over whether mass testing should be carried out in Britain to screen for coronavirus.
The plans – dubbed ‘Operation Moonshot’ – have been touted by ministers as a way to get the country back to normal.
But scientists have sounded a note of caution warning there is ‘insufficient evidence’ mass swabbing will stop the spread of the virus.
Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the British Medical Journal she wasn’t sure mass testing would work.
‘We do not know, based on current evidence, whether screening the general population for SARS-CoV-2 will increase or decrease disease transmission, hospitalisations, and deaths,’ she said.
‘Detection and isolation of asymptomatic cases could potentially decrease disease transmission, but false reassurance from missed cases could potentially increase transmission, if people then engage in more risky behaviour.’
The Government is using lateral flow tests in its pilot in Liverpool which, although rapid, are thought not to be as accurate as the officially used PCR swabs.
Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at Birmingham University, told the BMJ while there was a low rate of errors ‘the number of false positives can still outnumber the number of cases detected’.
Evaluation of the fast-acting tests, which give results within 20 minutes, suggested they only detect three quarters of positive cases even in a best case scenario.
Public Health England investigations found that the test, made by the company Innova, was 76.8 per cent sensitive when used by a trained lab technician but this fell to just 58 per cent when people swabbed themselves.
Professor Deeks said: ‘The poor detection rate of the test makes it entirely unsuitable for the government’s claim that it will allow the safe “test and release” of people from lockdown and students from university.’
He added: ‘The benefits are likely to be few, with serious risks of harm from the public being misled by the unjustified claims of high performance of this test from the government ‘
But other councils have been told they will not benefit from the same level of logistical help from the army, which helped transport and administer tests as part of the pilot.
Leicester’s infection rate currently stands at 318 cases per 100,000 people.
It was only around 132 per 100,000 when it originally became the first authority in England to be hit by a local lockdown in at the end of June.
Despite being the country’s sixth worst-hit place, Leicester’s infection rate has dropped by 23 per cent since the start of England’s lockdown – Department of Health data showed it was 411 per 100,000 on November 4.
The city’s officials will be keen to escape Tier Three when England’s national lockdown ends on December 2 after months of tough restrictions.
Criticising the most recent blunder, mayor Sir Peter told LeicestershireLive: ‘The fact they have provided us with the kits but not the barcodes is nothing short of utterly crazy.
‘The fact they can’t get themselves adequately co-ordinated to send us the barcodes that could get this whole thing moving is ridiculous.
‘If there was an issue we would be working to overcome it, but there doesn’t seem to be one, it is just sheer administrative incompetence.
‘We have the staff, the local knowledge and the prior experience of using mass testing to drive rates down and we want to get on with it. Without the barcodes, we can’t do that.’
The barcodes are used to link a test kit to the person they are used on. The patient is given a matching code and it is linked to their name and contact details so they are sent the correct result.
The kits, which can produce results within minutes rather than hours or days, have reportedly been sat unopened for at least a week already.
A Department of Health spokesperson said today: ‘We are working closely with local authorities to deliver lateral flow tests to directors of public health as soon as possible.
‘So far we have delivered over 150,000 lateral flow test kits and have hundreds of thousands more in progress.
‘We are aware of a logistics issue that has impacted some deliveries, which we are working urgently to resolve.’
They work by detecting proteins that are found on the surface of the virus, which can be done faster than the lab-based tests that look for tiny traces of genetic material.
It emerged last week that all Tier Three lockdown areas would get access to mass testing in a desperate attempt to pummel Covid.
But the plan has drawn criticisms from scientists who say that the tests aren’t as good as they should be for this purpose, with some used by the Government missing at least a quarter of positive results.
It comes after it was revealed last night that people could be given shopping vouchers if they get tested for coronavirus under Number 10’s mass-swabbing plans.
Local councils in Tier 3 hotspot areas will be paid £14 for every test carried out in a bid to encourage widespread uptake.
Authorities could use the money on ‘discount schemes with local businesses’ to incentivise residents to get checked for the disease, an official document says. Local health chiefs will decide whether to test entire populations or target particular age groups, ethnic minorities or residents from specific areas.
Under the new local testing guidance, Number 10 also makes provision for so-called ‘freedom passes’, where those who get a negative result could be allowed into pubs, restaurants and sporting grounds, which are supposed to stay closed in Tier 3.