Mass COVID-19 testing halted in March due to 'sheer scale of UK cases'

Mass coronavirus testing was stopped in mid-March due to the ‘sheer scale of cases in the UK’, says top official

  • Professor Yvonne Doyle explained why the UK stopped mass testing on March 12
  • The senior health official put it down to the large number of UK cases by then
  • In March, hundreds and thousands of UK citizens had been exposed to the virus 
  • Matt Hancock claimed on Tuesday that risk of spreading was low at that point
  • Professor Doyle also said the UK followed similar testing method to South Korea 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

One of Public Health England’s senior health officials revealed coronavirus had already hit hundreds of thousands of people in the UK by the middle of March, contrary to government claims.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director of PHE, said that widespread testing and contact tracing was scrapped by ministers on March 12 due to the ‘sheer scale of cases’ in the UK.

The Government changed their stance on trying to combat the virus on that date as they believed the NHS was the better resource to test those with coronavirus compared to more widespread testing.

Public Health England director Yvonne Doyle (pictured) said that the decision to abandon widespread testing and contact tracing on March 12 was due to the sheer scale of COVID-19 cases in the UK

Hundreds of thousands of people had already contracted the virus by the middle of March, meaning government ministers had to shift their focus to testing patients through the NHS

However, Professor Doyle’s comments contradict those of Matt Hancock this week, with the Health Secretary telling the House of Commons on Tuesday that community spreading of the virus was low in early to mid-March.

She said: ‘So we have multiple introductions, with many hundreds of thousands of people by March who had now been exposed to this virus in this country.

‘Contact tracing could not possibly have had the capacity to address that.

‘And with the capacity of lab testing and our contact tracers, we felt the most important thing to do was to focus on where there was national concern, which was the capacity of the NHS, to accrue that testing.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the risk of spreading the virus in early to mid-March was low

One country who benefited from widespread testing to their population was South Korea, whose methods in combatting the virus were the subject of international praise. 

Professor Doyle admitted that the UK had looked into replicating South Korea’s treatment model and even stated that the two nation’s methods were very similar in the month of March. 

She added: ‘We did not reject the South Korean model, in fact we were very interested in what was happening internationally from the get-go.

‘The testing capacity and testing profile of PHE’s approach in the contain phase – which is between January and March – was very close to the one of South Korea for quite a long time, into early March.’

South Korea have recorded 11,142 coronavirus cases since the outbreak began, with 264 deaths so far.

Meanwhile, over 254,000 Britons have contracted the virus with 36,393 fatalities to date. 

Downing Street confirmed that the decision to abandon South Korea’s contact tracing methods on March 12 and move towards testing in an NHS capacity was made by government experts. 

A spokesperson said: ‘It was set out at the time by the Government experts who were attending the daily press conference why they had reached the decision to start focusing their testing on people who were sick in hospital.

‘That’s how I remember the decision making process.’

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