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Covid: Can mass testing save us from another lockdown?


Mass testing is being touted as a way of getting us much closer to a normal life and even of avoiding lockdowns in the future.

Testing everyone - even those without symptoms - can be an incredibly powerful tool for rooting out the virus.

Boris Johnson has promised a "massive expansion" in such testing in the UK and Liverpool is the first city to trial it.

But questions have been asked about the current tests and the overall strategy. So, what can mass testing realistically achieve?

The promise of mass testing

Mass testing is similar to cancer screening - you take healthy people, test them and then you act early if there are any problems.

But instead of finding the hidden cancer, you find people who have the virus who may not know it yet.

The hope is this can be used to stamp out an outbreak, by getting everyone who tests positive to isolate, without turning to strict restrictions.

China has done this on multiple occasions by mass testing everyone in a city after a cluster of cases was detected. Slovakia is attempting this across the entire country.

There are also more targeted ways of using mass testing:

  • Regular, even daily, testing in a hospital or care home could prevent an outbreak among people who are at the highest risk of Covid-19
  • And it could keep places where the virus can spread, like schools and universities, open
  • Another option is a one-off test before being able to go to the cinema, theatre or a football match

"These tests will come online, they will be good and they are what we need, but we need to understand how well they work and not over-promise on them," said Prof Jon Deeks, from the University of Birmingham.

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