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Covid-19: UK government plans to spend £100bn on expanding covid-19 testing to 10 million a day

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Covid-19: UK government plans to spend £100bn on expanding covid-19 testing to 10 million a day

The UK government has drawn up plans to carry out up to 10 million covid-19 tests a day by early next year as part of a huge £100bn expansion of its national testing programme, documents seen by The BMJ reveal. 

A briefing memo sent to the first minister and cabinet secretaries in Scotland, seen by The BMJ, reveals the UK-wide Moonshot programme is expected to “cost over £100 billion to deliver.” If achieved, the programme would allow testing of the entire UK population per week. 

Under the plan the government will roll out testing in workplaces, entertainment venues, and football stadiums, and at GP surgeries, pharmacies, schools, and other local sites to improve access. It will also roll out digital immunity passports to allow people who test negative to return to workplaces, travel, and participate in other activities. 

The leaked documents reveal a heavy reliance on the private sector to achieve the mass testing and details ‘letters of comfort’ which have already been signed with companies to reach 3 million tests per day by December. Firms named are GSK for supplying tests, AstraZeneca for lab capacity and Serco and G4s for logistics and warehousing. 

But critics have already rounded on the plans as “devoid of any contribution from scientists, clinicians, public health, test and screening experts,” and “disregarding the enormous problems with the existing testing and tracing programmes.”

Commenting on the leaked plans, Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said they bore the hallmark of a government “whose ambition far exceeds its ability to deliver.”

Devi Sridhar, Professor and Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said she was glad the government is moving in the direction of mass testing but is concerned about the reliance on the private sector to deliver this. 

While Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham and leader of the Cochrane Collaboration’s covid-19 test evaluation activities warned that mass testing could lead to “substantial economic harm and massive need for further testing.” 

Link to full story: https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3520

09/09/2020

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