The UK has carried out just under 80,000 coronavirus blood tests, with the government promising to ramp up testing of suspected coronavirus cases. But these measures still fall significantly short of the levels called for by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In the UK, testing has mainly been carried out on those admitted to hospital, a move that has been criticised by experts and health professionals.
But England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has defended the government’s approach to testing but said it intended to scale it up, noting that efforts were already “substantial”.
The move comes after the head of the WHO launched a strongly worded attack on governments that had neglected or held back testing, warning that they could not fight the pandemic blindfolded.
Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said there hasn’t been an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response.
He said it’s like “fighting the fire blindfolded”.
“We have a simple message for all countries Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.” He said the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives was “breaking the chains of transmission”.
Professor Whitty said the government agreed with the WHO and that it was giving up testing based on geography. But he also defended the testing regime, saying there was “complete surveillance” testing in intensive care, and that hospitals were also testing patients with pneumonia. He added that GPs were testing in the community.
Witty said the government would be “scaling it up” its efforts amid the concerns that not enough people were being screened.
Currently testing is being carried out on people who were currently sick. Future tests would be “transformational” if there was a way to find out whether people had previously had it. This would show what proportion of people could get the disease without any symptoms.
Meanwhile South Korea had by Saturday 21st March tested more than 248,647 people – one in every 200 citizens.
Concern has also been raised about health professionals who are likely to be treating those with the virus but will only be tested if they are admitted to hospital.
A change.org petition has begun, which calls for the prioritisation of testing for NHS staff, has had more than 1.16 million signatures of support.