Did flawed PCR tests convince us Covid was worse than it really was? Britain’s entire response was based on results – but one scientist says they should have been axed a year ago

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by Jo Macfarlane, Daily Mail:

It has been one of the most enduring Covid conspiracy theories: that the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests used to diagnose the virus were picking up people who weren’t actually infected.

Some even suggested the swabs, which have been carried out more than 200 million times in the UK alone, may mistake common colds and flu for corona.

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If either, or both, were true, it would mean many of these cases should never have been counted in the daily tally – that the ominous and all-too-familiar figure, which was used to inform decisions on lockdowns and other pandemic measures, was an over-count.

And many of those who were ‘pinged’ and forced to isolate as a contact of someone who tested positive – causing a huge strain on the economy – did so unnecessarily.

Such statements, it must be said, have been roundly dismissed by top experts. And those scientists willing to give credence such concerns have been shouted down on social media, accused of being ‘Covid-deniers’, and even sidelined by colleagues.

But could they have been right all along?

Today, in the first part of a major new series, The Mail on Sunday investigates whether ‘the science’ that The Government so often said they were following during the pandemic was flawed, at least in some respects.

In the coming weeks we will examine if Britain’s stark Covid death figure was overblown. We will also ask if lockdowns did more harm than good.

But this week, we tackle the debate around Covid tests, and examine whether there is any truth to the claims that they were never fit for purpose.

Last month a report by the research charity Collateral Global and academics at Oxford University concluded as much, stating that as many as one third of all positive cases may not have been infectious.

If they are right, that’s a potentially staggering number – roughly six million cases.

The Oxford scientists branded the UK’s testing programme – which cost an eye-watering £2bn-a-month – as ‘chaotic and wasteful’.

It is, say these critics, not simply important that we learn from our mistakes.

For while testing will now only be routine offered to patients when they come into hospitals, or in other clinical settings, and to the vulnerable, PCRs will still be used to track the spread of the virus in the community. And should there be a resurgence, that number will once again inform policy.

Today, in the first part of a major new series, The Mail on Sunday investigates whether 'the science' that The Government so often said they were following during the pandemic was flawed, at least in some respects. Pictured: Professor Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock at a Coronavirus press briefing

Today, in the first part of a major new series, The Mail on Sunday investigates whether ‘the science’ that The Government so often said they were following during the pandemic was flawed, at least in some respects. Pictured: Professor Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock at a Coronavirus press briefing

It has been one of the most enduring Covid conspiracy theories: that the 'gold standard' PCR tests used to diagnose the virus were picking up people who weren't actually infected (stock photo)

It has been one of the most enduring Covid conspiracy theories: that the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests used to diagnose the virus were picking up people who weren’t actually infected (stock photo)

Nearly two years on from the first lockdown, how sure can we be that cases weren’t, as some have argued, overstated?

As ever with anything Covid-related, it’s a complex and nuanced picture, and there is far from a consensus on this point.

Collateral Global’s figure has been disputed, and other scientists say that if non-infectious positives did distort case numbers, it was by a minimal amount. Others dismiss any notion that testing played anything other than a vital role in our fight against Covid.

But as Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Many people may not have been infectious, despite getting a positive test.’

Key to understanding the issue lies in how PCR tests work and the Government decisions that dictated how they were used.

PCRs detect tiny fragments of Covid genes, known as RNA, in samples taken from the nose and throat. To do this, swabs are treated in a lab with chemicals to extract the genetic material.

Nearly two years on from the first lockdown, how sure can we be that cases weren't, as some have argued, overstated?

 

Nearly two years on from the first lockdown, how sure can we be that cases weren’t, as some have argued, overstated?

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