The first week without asymptomatic Covid testing for health and social care workers across Britain coincided with the UK Covid Inquiry launch, prompting a leading testing expert to ask if we have learned the past lessons.
As Covid prevention measures are dismantled UK–wide, even while the latest figures show cases soaring 14% in a week, a leading testing expert warns the Government has taken its eye off the ball at a crucial time.
Dr Quinton Fivelman, PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Northern Ireland has stopped testing asymptomatic health and social care workers this week, bringing it into line with the rest of the UK. Surely, it’s perverse that this decision coincided with the UK Covid Inquiry’s first preliminary hearing.’
‘Estimated Covid infections in the UK have risen above one million for the first time since the end of August. One in 60 people had Covid in the UK in the week of 20th September, up from one in 70 the week before.’
‘As we enter the colder months of autumn and winter, now is the time for all four nations of the UK to consider reintroducing Covid rules, such as wearing masks in public places, rather than jettisoning remaining measures.’
‘Across Britain, there is now no testing for health and social care workers, personal assistants or unpaid carers who show no symptoms of the virus. Coinciding with the UK Covid Inquiry launch, the timing is unfortunate, to say the least.’
‘The first phase of the new inquiry, chaired by former High Court judge Baroness Hallett, will look at the UK’s planning and preparedness, political decision-making, and health care during the early months of the pandemic. Hopefully, we are not setting the scene for a future inquiry into the decisions taken this autumn.’
‘The UK must not sleepwalk into another Covid explosion and lockdown. The problem is that the Government’s attention has been diverted by financial problems, some of its own making, with the ongoing dangers of Covid pushed further down its agenda.’
‘There’s a common misconception, in Government and beyond, that the latest Covid Omicron subvariants are somehow less dangerous than previous strains. However, while some patients display milder symptoms, last week’s ONS figures show 3,944 people were hospitalised with the virus.’
‘Of equal concern, 34% of all existing long Covid patients have developed their symptoms after catching Covid during the Omicron era. Long Covid cases have also returned to a high of 2 million, and its severity has not decreased. Chronic fatigue continues to be the most common issue (62%), followed by shortness of breath (37%), difficulty concentrating (33%) and muscle ache (31%).’
‘Announcing his decision to pause asymptomatic Covid testing, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Michael McBride, said: ‘The prevalence of Covid in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly from that seen earlier this year. As a result, it is possible to pause asymptomatic testing in these groups at this time. This aligns us with current policy in the other UK nations.’
‘The decision by all four chief medical officers to abandon asymptomatic testing for healthcare workers was based largely on rules drawn up around the UK’s Covid Alert level, which was reduced to two at the end of August.’
‘At the time, the Government said the reduced alert level was because ‘the summer BA.4 and BA.5 wave is subsiding’. With cases on the rise, the Government needs to put aside party wrangling, look again at its alert level and take swift, effective action to stop the growing threat of a severe Covid and influenza ‘twindemic’ this winter.’
‘It is encouraging that the next wave of top-up Covid jabs, which include protection against some Omicron subvariants,is now well underway.’
‘If anyone is concerned about their own immune response to the jabs and how well they continue to produce and retain antibodies, the new generation blood tests available from London Medical Laboratory are highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and nationwide.’