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MHRA refuses to approve mass daily Covid testing at English schools

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Boris Johnson’s plans to test millions of schoolchildren for coronavirus every week appear to be in disarray after the UK regulator refused to formally approve the daily testing of pupils in England, the Guardian has learned.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the government on Tuesday it had not authorised the daily use of 30-minute tests due to concerns that they give people false reassurance if they test negative. This could lead to pupils staying in school and potentially spreading the virus when they should be self-isolating.

The regulator’s decision undermines a key element of the government’s strategy to bring the pandemic under control – and is bound to raise fresh questions about the tests, and the safety of the schools that have been asked to use them.

Prof Jon Deeks, a biostatistician of the University of Birmingham and Royal Statistical Society, described the use of rapid tests in this context as “ridiculous and dangerous” and welcomed the MHRA’s stance.

He said: “It is really important that we have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of tests for Covid-19 and all other diseases - this is the responsibility of our regulator.

“This clarification of the unsuitability of lateral flow tests for saying people are not infected with SARS-CoV-2 from the MHRA demonstrates that they are taking their responsibility seriously to ensure that tests are used in a safe way."

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Source: The Guardian, 14 January 2021

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