Business backing for Covid testing of healthy people

11 January 2021

The CBI has backed Covid-19 testing for healthy or “asymptomatic” people in England, although medical experts have questioned the value of the strategy.

In a recent statement from the business organisation, Matthew Fell, Chief Policy Director of the UK’s CBI, said, “Rapid mass testing is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting on top of the virus. The health and safety of staff is paramount for employers, which is why they will be right behind this initiative.

“This expansion of testing will help more critical workers and those unable to work from home to operate safely, while also catching new cases more swiftly.

“Ramping up asymptomatic testing to all workplaces will require hand-in-glove partnership between health services, local authorities and businesses in each and every community.”

However, a December 2020 editorial of the BMJ by Professor of Public Health Allyson Pollock and James Lancaster, an independent researcher, raised two key questions about the strategy, namely, “How infectious are people who test positive but have no symptoms? And, what is their contribution to transmission of live virus?”

In the editorial, the health experts cited a city-wide prevalence study of almost 10 million people in the city of Wuhan, China, which found no evidence of asymptomatic transmission.

The editorial warned, “Searching for people who are asymptomatic yet infectious is like searching for needles that appear and reappear transiently in haystacks… Mass testing risks the harmful diversion of scarce resources. A further concern is the use of inadequately evaluated tests as screening tools in healthy populations.”

The authors said, “The absence of strong evidence that asymptomatic people are a driver of transmission is another good reason for pausing the roll out of mass testing in schools, universities, and communities.”

The editorial is available at www.bmj.com.