The Government’s offer of free rapid Covid-19 tests for all could be ‘seriously counterproductive’ if the public is not made aware of their limitations, the BMA has warned.
This message comes as the Government has announced that everyone in England will be able to collect or order free rapid coronavirus tests, to be taken twice weekly by asymptomatic individuals, from Friday this week.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that while this may help identify asymptomatic cases that would otherwise go undetected, recent research into lateral flow tests suggests they only detect Covid in roughly half of people with symptoms, and significantly fewer asymptomatic cases.
‘Therefore, negative tests could provide false reassurance to many people who have Covid-19 but do not have symptoms and who will be contagious,’ he said, adding that if people mix more freely as a result, this ‘could be seriously counterproductive and rapidly spread infection’.
In response, the BMA warned that ‘a negative test must not be used as a basis for people to mix without mitigations’, with Dr Nagpaul urging the Government that LTFs ‘must not be used as a mechanism of how to unlock the country’.
He added: ‘Positive lateral flow tests should be confirmed by a PCR test wherever possible as well as to help identify new variants, and clear trigger points set out if cases rise again.’
Last week, the Government announced the reintroduction of confirmatory PCR testing for people who get a positive LFD test result in England to help with identifying Covid variants.
The study referenced by the BMA also showed the rapid tests correctly ruled out infection in 99.5% of uninfected people with Covid-like symptoms and 98.9% of uninfected people without symptoms.
Rapid testing has so far been available to those most at risk and people who need to leave home for work, such as frontline NHS workers and care home staff and residents. They can also be ordered by parents of children in educational settings.