Operation Moonshot at less than 50% accuracy should be scrapped, experts say

Khanh Ngo on the government's latest coronavirus testing plan

Khanh Ngo
17th November 2020
from Pixabay
The government's latest coronavirus testing plan aims to deliver 10 million tests a day, but is criticised as “too inaccurate” as the Manchester pilot suggests that over 50% of cases were missed

The governmental programme is currently being developed to introduce same-day mass testing for Covid-19 in England. If successful, this project could enable large gatherings whilst maintaining control over the virus. 

The programme will use rapid coronavirus tests which return results within 20 minutes.

Although the government has already spent over £323 million on these tests for use within hospitals and care homes, a crucial trial in Manchester and Salford found that these tests could only identify 46.7% of infections.

A different test being piloted in Liverpool, should supposedly only wrongly diagnose 3 in every 1000 people, but studies finds it only offers 77% accuracy.

Understandably, experts are anxious about the performance of the tests chosen for the pilot scheme.

Some experts are calling for Operation Moonshot to be scrapped altogether

Many have raised concerns that doubts over the results will undermine public confidence and affect people’s willingness to participate in testing. Some experts are calling for Moonshot to be scrapped altogether.

Bill Esterson, the Labour MP for Sefton in Merseyside, asked the government for urgent publication of the tests’ clinical validity data at the beginning of November.

He said: “It’s very worrying if unreliable tests are being used. It’s crucial that the Liverpool mass testing pilot succeeds.”

A study by Public Health England and the University of Oxford last week suggested that nearly one in four people who have Covid could be told they are negative after having the test, making the margin of error 25%.

That would amount to more than 2 million false negatives should the testing capacity reach the 10 million target.

Professor Jon Deeks, who leads the Test Evaluation Research Group (TERG) at Birmingham University, said: “This test has not been properly evaluated."

He continued: “The government’s own evidence shows these tests miss positive cases - which means people could unwittingly go out and cuddle their grandparents without realising the risk to them".

"It could also mean up to half of those who get positive results and are told to isolate do not need to".

"This programme seems to be based on politics, not strong science."

Professor jon deeks, test evaluation research group leader

“The decision to roll out this programme seems to be based on politics, not strong science. I would abandon this scheme. We need to put in measures that work.”

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