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COVID-19: People are not being warned about pitfalls of mass testing

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Only a third of local authorities that are rolling out lateral flow testing have made the test’s limitations clear to the public—including that it does not pick up all cases and that people testing negative could still be infected, an investigation by The BMJ has found.

A search of the websites of the 114 local authorities rolling out lateral flow testing found that 81 provided information for the public on rapid COVID-19 testing. Of these, nearly half (47%; 38) did not explain the limitations of the tests or make it clear that people needed to continue following the restrictions or safety measures even if they tested negative, as they could still be infected.

Although 53% (43) did advise people to continue to follow the current measures after a negative result, only 32% (26) were clear about the test’s limitations or its potential for false negatives. The advice the websites gave to the public about a negative test result ranged from “A single negative test is not a passport to carrying on your daily life ‘virus-free’... don’t let a negative COVID-19 test give you a false sense of security” to “It is good news that you don’t have the coronavirus.”

On 10 January England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, launched the drive for local authorities to test asymptomatic people who cannot work from home, to try to halt the spread of the virus. But many public health experts are concerned about false reassurance from mass testing.

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Source: BMJ, 26 January 2021

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