UK city ‘selected for coronavirus testing experiment’

Scientist says government’s secret plan is aimed at lifting lockdown restrictions

Coronavirus testing site
A health worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in Wolverhampton
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The government is planning mass coronavirus testing in an English city of 300,000 people, a leading scientist has claimed.

The National reports that the city’s identity is “a secret, but, with funding and planning understood to be in place, it could be announced in the coming days”. The experiment is aimed at lifting lockdown restrictions and if successful, will be rolled out across the UK and possibly also in other countries, the UAE-based news site adds.

Professor Julian Peto, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told The National that the UK government has been “been preparing frantically for over a month to do this. They put in a grant application to the Department of Health to fund it.”

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But for “some extraordinary reason”, the programme is being conducted in secret, Peto said.

“If this works, it would be incredibly popular politically and be a ‘get out of jail free’ card for Boris Johnson, where he can go from having the worst record in Europe to the best record in the world,” he added.

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A group of public health experts wrote a letter to medical journal The Lancet in April calling for “a major British city” to be used to trial mass testing for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

As The Guardian reported at the time, the group warned that relying on mass lockdowns and relaxations to control the UK outbreak could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths before a vaccine was available.

Peto, who signed the letter, says that a saliva-based test can give results in a laboratory with fewer than 100 staff processing 43,000 samples daily.

The UK has “significantly increased its testing capacity over the past month”, but still lags behind many other nations, notes the BBC.

The government has repeatedly failed to meet its target of 100,000 daily tests, a total that Germany has been achieving since the start of April.

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