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

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3520 (Published 09 September 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3520

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  1. Gareth Iacobucci,
  2. Rebecca Coombes
  1. The BMJ

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 (€110bn; $130bn) expansion of its national testing programme, documents seen by The BMJ show.

The internal correspondence reveals that the government is prepared to almost match what it spends on the NHS in England each year (£130bn) to fund mass testing of the population “to support economic activity and a return to normal life” under its ambitious Operation Moonshot programme.

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

A separate PowerPoint presentation prepared for the government by the global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, also seen by The BMJ, says the plans had the potential to grow the UK’s testing capacity from the current 350 000 a day to up to 10 million tests a day by early 2021.

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

The leaked documents reveal a heavy reliance on the private sector to achieve the mass testing and give details of “letters of comfort” that have already been signed with companies to reach three million tests a day by December. Firms named are GSK for supplying tests, AstraZeneca for …

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