One of the vital pieces of data that the Government has been sharing with us for some weeks is how many tests there have been and how many people are being tested for COVID-19. I know that some of the people who read this blog argue that testing is not as essential, primarily because someone could test negative one day and catch COVID the following day and this would not be known until next time they are tested by which time matters could have changed dramatically. However testing someone who has COVID-19 and then working out where they have been and who they have met since they were last tested makes the Contact Tracing system a way of removing or at least seriously reducing the lockdown arrangements which we are all keen to say goodbye to. As I have written previously someone suggested that we would need to test around 2.5m people each week for the Contact Tracing arrangement to work and given that most people are tested on a working day that would require around 500,000 people to be able to be tested each day. The 2.5m would mean that the majority of the nation could be tested over a 20 week period. Those figures may be wrong but they are certainly closer than anything taking place at the moment.
Although the Government publishes the number of tests and the number of people being tested, before I began to record that data the TV presentations only focused on the numbers of people being tested. So although Matthew Hancock and Boris Johnson always refer to the number of tests rather than the number of people being tested, the graph above relates to the number of people that have been tested. It is clear from all of the subsequent data that the number of people represents around about 80% of the number of tests that have taken place. My daily data began on 28th March as the previous day was the first time I heard a reference to the cumulative number of people who had been tested which Michael Gove presented, stating 113,777 people tested by the end of the previous day and the following comment.
Today I can announce that Prime Minister has brought together businesses, research institutes and Universities in a new alliance to boost testing capacity for front line workers. Increasing our testing capacity is absolutely crucial in our response to and our fight against Coronavirus. This is a particular priority for those who work in the health and social care sector and are working so hard to keep us all safe. This will be antigen testing, testing whether people currently have the disease so that our health and social care workers can have security in the knowledge that they are safe to return to work if their test is negative. These tests will be trialled for people on the frontline starting immediately with 100’s to take place by the end of the weekend. Dramatically scaling up next week.
So assuming that the number of people who had been tested he referred to represented about 80% of the number of tests, that would suggest around about 135,000 tests had already taken place. We don’t know how long people had been tested for but the daily tests over the next few days represented 7,000 people a day before they rose to 8,240 on the last day of March which would be about 10,000 tests and an average of 15,000 tests over the next fortnight which partly reflects Gove’s comment. If the tests started at the beginning of March it may have been an average of around 5,200 tests a day or if the testing began in the middle of February it could have been about 3,400 tests a day. The only reason I have been considering this is that on Wednesday Johnson made the following statement which was published here.
Actually, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was right last week when he paid tribute to the amazing work of the NHS, the logistics team and everybody involved in getting up from 2,000 tests a day in March to 120,000 by the end of April. Yes, he is right that capacity currently exceeds demand. We are working on that. We are running at about 100,000 a day, but the ambition, clearly, is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of this month, and then to go even higher. As he knows, and as the whole House will know, a fantastic testing regime is going to be absolutely critical to our long-term economic recovery.
So the concept of 2,000 tests a day in March is clearly nonsensical, unless Boris was referring to the first day of the month which would have had to grow by 5% each day to achieve 10,000 by the end of the month. Certainly the average number in March was far higher than 2,000 a day however one calculates matters.
The good news is that yesterday the test number that was published had risen to 97,029 and it involved 67,443 people so assuming that the tests continue at that level when the long weekend is over next week that we are close to the 100,000 figure which Matthew Hancock promised would be the case by the end of April. Of course there was 122,347 tests on the 30th April (and 73,191 people) but these dropped to 105,937 (63,667 people) on the 1st May and then dropped much lower until the number published yesterday. So if we are to see lockdown ended, we need to increase far beyond 200,000 a day, but as things are at the moment, we are not even seeing 100,000 tests a day and so we need Johnson to stop exaggerating on the numbers that will take place and telling lies about the numbers of tests that took place in March! Although Keir Starmer did not challenge Johnsons dishonest view about the past he did state this about contact tracing
I did pay tribute last week. I am glad the Prime Minister has now said that the target now is 200,000 tests a day by the end of this month. But, of course, just having a target is not a strategy. What is needed is testing, tracing and isolation—that is the strategy. Contact tracing was happening in the UK, but it was abandoned in mid-March. We were told at the time that this was because it was “not an appropriate mechanism”, but yesterday the deputy chief medical officer said that it was to do with testing capacity. Can the Prime Minister clarify the position for us? Why was contact tracing abandoned in mid-March and not restarted sooner?
Sadly the response from Johnson to this question was so lacking in any real value that I cannot be bothered to repeat it!