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UK government intentionally put a stop to mass testing and tracing in March: advisers

Friday, 22 May 2020 2:05 PM  [ Last Update: Friday, 22 May 2020 2:05 PM ]
 

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Mass COVID-19 testing. PPE 15, April, 2020. File image Getty Pictures

It has been brought to light that Britain intentionally put an end to mass testing and contact tracing of those with or suspected of having COVID-19 in March since a surge in new cases at that time would have been beyond the system’s capacity.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been called out for scaling back testing and tracing in March, only to speed things up once again in recent weeks in an attempt to ease out of lockdown to tackle the coronavirus outbreak that has all but brought the economy to a standstill.

Westminster has repeatedly claimed it has been guided in its fight against the coronavirus by scientific and medical advice, and on Friday, John Newton, Britain’s testing coordinator, said it was ministers who ultimately decided on contact tracing.

Newton said the government’s scientific advisory group established in February had concluded that an increased rate of transmission of the virus in the community meant it would not be worth carrying on with mass contact tracing.

“When, in March, it became apparent that community transmission was occurring … that decision was then enacted. It was a decision of course of government, informed by all its advisers not just Public Health England,” he told parliament’s science and technology committee.

He said the advice from modellers in March was that Britain would have as many as a million cases in a very short period of time- something that would stretch even those countries with large testing and tracing capabilities.

 “At that point it was the government’s very significant decision, made by government, to move to lockdown as the most appropriate response to the epidemiology in the UK at the time,” he said.

On other measures where Britain is adopting different advice to other countries, Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, told the committee the advice to the public to keep two metres apart would be kept under review.

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