April 6, 2021 9.58 am This story is over 14 months old

Twice weekly COVID testing welcome amid warning of false negatives

COVID Passports “inevitable” for travel but health bosses on fence over home need

Government’s move to get people testing twice a week was expected and welcomed, but “don’t think you’re scot-free” if you get a negative result, health bosses have warned.

Professor Derek Ward, Lincolnshire County Council’s director for public health, said the move was “another tool in the toolbox”.

However, he added the “primary line of defence” was to carry on with social distancing, hands, face, space and fresh air.

Under the new measures, residents can pick up home testing kits from any of the lateral flow testing centres in the county as well as the PCR testing sites in the afternoons. They can also order tests online.

“It’s another line in our defence, it’s another tool in the toolbox, so that’s a good thing, but it’s really important everybody remembers even if you are testing yourself twice a week, a negative, doesn’t mean you definitely don’t have COVID it just means the test didn’t pick it up, and we know with lateral flow tests, they’re not perfect,” said Professor Ward.

“So it’s great if you test yourself, but that doesn’t mean if you get a negative, you can go back and do whatever you want you’ve got to stick by the rules, so the hands, face, space message stays the same, whether you test yourself or you don’t.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking on April 5.

He added false negatives were of higher concern to health bosses than false positives, as anyone who tests positive is given a complimentary PCR test, which can be done within a couple of days, to confirm the diagnosis – though they must self-isolate in the meantime.

Professor Ward was on the fence over so-called COVID Passports.

He said they would “almost inevitably be needed for international travel”.

“From an infection prevention control a public health perspective, people knowing and having some, some certificate that tells others whether they’ve had two doses or one dose is helpful,” he said.

However, he added: “I don’t underestimate the civil liberties impact and some of the other arguments surrounding this debate, ultimately it’s going to be your political decision, it’s going to be what the people of the country want, and ask their politicians to instigate, and we’ll deal with whatever comes up that way.”

Elsewhere, Professor Ward said numbers in the county were “all going the right way” with the number of cases last week dropping by more than a third and all but Lincoln seeing a reduction in infection rates over the Easter Weekend. However, the county is still above the national infection rate.

More than 65% of the population has now had its first vaccination dose, while 120,000 tests are now being carried out a week.

Health bosses are, however, still calling for government to consider allowing employers in the food industry to pay employees who test positive full wages and be compensated for it.

There is concern those in low wage areas such as farm and factory work could be reluctant to get tested or isolate due to fears over paying the bills.

“For me, it’s probably the one area we need a change in government policy,” said Professor Ward.

“I know it’s a difficult ask, but I think that’s the one way we can break some of these chains of transmission in those settings, because some people simply can’t afford to isolate.

“They just wouldn’t be able to feed their kids and that’s a really really difficult position to put people into.”

However, he said factories, which were a necessity to keep open, were not to blame for outbreaks and were doing all they could to be COVID secure.

“By their very nature, food processing packing is a difficult area to make 100% secure and if we want our packaged fruit and veg and things delivered all over the country then some people have to work there and there’s going to be an increased risk – just like taxi drivers and bus drivers, it’s an essential infrastructure.”