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Mass testing begins in Liverpool amid fears rapid test technology is ‘missing cases’

Written by on 6 November 2020

A mass testing pilot of the government’s “operation moonshot” has begun in Liverpool.

The pilot scheme will see half a million people offered tests, including a new form of rapid testing, even if they do not have symptoms, as Mr Johnson banks on technological advances to steer the nation out of a second wave of COVID-19.

Around 2,000 members of the military are helping NHS staff to administer a combination of swab tests and new lateral flow tests which give results within an hour without the need of a lab.

Image:
Soldiers at Pontin’s in Southport where they will be staying ahead of the start of mass COVID-19 testing in Liverpool

Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) tests, which can give results in as little as 20 minutes are being trialled for hospital and care home staff.

But it comes as the Guardian reported that some of the technology at the heart of the scheme missed more than 50% of positive coronavirus cases in a Greater Manchester pilot.

The OptiGene LAMP test identified only 46.7% of infections during a trial in Manchester and Salford last month, according to a letter from Greater Manchester’s mass testing group seen by the newspaper.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it was “incorrect” to suggest the rapid test has a low sensitivity, adding that it had been validated in another recent pilot.

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Plans being developed under “operation moonshot” will reportedly eventually see 10 million people tested every day at a cost of GBP100bn.

Liverpool, which had been under Tier 3 restrictions for nearly three weeks before the national lockdown began on Thursday, has one of the highest coronavirus rates in England at 410.4 per 100,000 (for 18-25 October).

The aim of the scheme is to find asymptomatic cases in order to help prevent and reduce transmission in the community.

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Public warned to stick to lockdown rules

On Thursday, coachloads of soldiers were seen arriving at the Pontins Southport Holiday Park in Merseyside ahead of Friday’s rollout.

Six new test centres have been set up in council-run fitness centres and the Exhibition Centre Liverpool to test everyone who works or lives in the city.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “This is an incredible opportunity to turbocharge our efforts to reduce coronavirus in the city.

“We are excited to be leading on this project, supported by the Department of Health and Social Care.

“Let’s all get tested, for our families, our mates, our Liverpool and set an example to the country and the world.”

A Liverpool Council spokeswoman said more test centres will open in the coming days and that the pilot is expected to last for an initial 10 days, with a view to it being extended.

Tests can be booked online or on the NHS app and centres will accommodate walk-ins on the first day of the scheme, the spokeswoman said.

Testing will also take place using home kits and in hospitals, care homes, schools, universities and workplaces.

Meanwhile, at Mr Johnson’s latest news conference, he insisted Test and Trace is improving after it recorded a record low for contacts reached in England but acknowledged “frustrations” with the system and accepted it “hasn’t had as much impact as we would have wanted”.

By Mr Johnson’s side, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens assured sceptics that the second wave of the pandemic “is real and serious”.

Official figures showed a further 378 people died within 28 days of testing positive of COVID-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 48,120, though separate figures suggest there have been around 63,000 deaths involving the virus.