10 million tests a day needed to end UK lockdown and avoid economic disaster

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The lockdown could be lifted and up to 10 million people a day would be tested for Covid-19 tests if all laboratories in the country joined the effort, suggested a leading epidemiologist.

According to Professor Julian Peto of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, weekly tests for every member of the British population are the only way to save lives and prevent the destruction of the British economy.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, Professor Peto explained that by putting only households that tested positive in a targeted lockout, it would allow normal life to continue while controlling the spread of the disease.

He said, “You have a choice, you can let it tear and there would be two or three hundred thousand dead, or you can keep everyone locked up for two years until there is a vaccine , which will completely destroy the economy. . Or you can control the epidemic and this is the only way to control the epidemic. “

His suggestions come amid concern that compliance with government rules on social distancing is weakening as the country approaches the end of its second week of foreclosure.

Boris Johnson urged the British not to leave their homes “unless absolutely necessary” after new data revealed that travel had resumed.

In order for the entire population to be tested every week, the UK’s testing capacity would need to drop from 10,000 to 10 million tests per day.

The government’s current ambition is to increase the number of tests to 25,000 per day, and possibly 250,000 per day at a later stage. In comparison, Germany currently performs half a million tests per week:

The weekly tests would involve recruiting hundreds of laboratories across the country that have polymer chain reaction (PCR) technology. PCR machines are available in universities and private sector laboratories and can detect a gene in a sample of Covid-19 virus very quickly.

The machine then replicates the Covid-19 gene so that it can be easily identified. Even a small laboratory could perform 700 tests in 24 hours.

Although Professor Peto has admitted that it may not be possible to reach 10 million daily tests immediately, capacity could be reached by starting in areas already severely affected by Covid-19 infections and by deploying the program across the country as soon as possible.

The proposed emergency tests would be needed for two months to monitor the current epidemic in the UK. “You just deliver and collect them from every home in England once a week, it’s like having your bins collected,” said Professor Peto. All those registered with a general practitioner would receive a self-test kit every week.

The samples would then be sent by courier to a laboratory to be tested on an allocated collection day. The kit would consist of a sample tube containing a throat and nose swab, with an identification barcode, as well as the person’s name and NHS number.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair warned earlier that if the UK could not test “just about everyone”, the government would not be able to lift its measures safely. “How are you going to get by unless you really understand who has it and who doesn’t? ” he said.

Blair suggested that Prime Minister Boris Johnson should bring all state support to science and technology to fight the Covid-19 epidemic. If a self-tested sample turns out to be positive, a household would be placed in a targeted lock cell.

Outbreaks of the disease in specific areas could be quickly identified and controlled. The weekly mass tests could be reduced to monthly tests because the prevalence of Covid-19 reduced and less frequent tests would then be carried out by some very large facilities.

Public Health England recently set up a new national testing facility in Milton Keynes and universities across the country have been asked to lend the PCR machines in order to increase the government’s current testing capacity.

Durham University is one of many who have already loaned PCR devices. Their machines were recovered by the navy last week and taken to the new national test center, as well as local hospitals, in an effort to increase the testing capacity of front-line staff and suspected cases of Covid-19.

Professor Peto believes that the only way to stop the epidemic in the UK is to have the virus tested in laboratories across the country that have PCR machines. Putting all of the country’s PCR labs online and working together will also have far-reaching consequences for the future. But it’s an arduous task:

Professor Peto said, “The really, really great thing about this is – this epidemic is not too serious, it will not destroy civilization, but it has made people aware of the idea of ​​a new bug that would kill everyone, spreading in exactly the same way. way – this system will stop that, it’s an early warning system to prevent that from happening with a new virus. “

He added, “With any new virus, we could reactivate the system. You cannot create this system in the absence of an epidemic, it is absolutely impossible to get it started, to involve everyone.

“You can’t do this in peacetime, you can do it now in a week. This can only be done now. From all points of view, it would be completely transformative and I think we could live like this for a few years. “

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