Boris Johnson’s ‘moonshot’ mass-testing regime could fuel racial tensions and cause ‘significant’ loss of income to small businesses, Government scientists have warned.
On Thursday the PM pinned his hopes on a plan to provide millions of daily tests – reportedly set to cost as much as £100bn.
At a press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister said that mass testing with rapid results would allow people to “behave in a more normal way, in the knowledge that they can’t infect anyone with the virus.”
But weeks earlier, scientists warned this risked people being more reckless with handwashing and seeking a test if they did develop symptoms.
A SAGE paper dated 27 August, and published today, warns mass testing would detect higher rates of infection – which would lead to a larger number of people told to self-isolate.
A background paper used to develop the SAGE subcommittee’s position on background testing reads: “Some employers and employees do not want to be self-isolating so are resistant to mass testing, as noted in internal memos regarding responses in Leicester in July 2020.”
It goes on to say such increased self-isolation could “lead to significant loss of income to some employers particularly small and medium-sized enterprises.”
It goes on to warn that there’s a risk people who have been tested might misunderstand that the ‘negative’ status doesn’t extend past the point of testing.
It reads: “It might, for example, delay seeking testing if symptoms appear after a test-negative result.
“If it is misunderstood to reflect no risk of infection, it could reduce other risk reducing behaviours such as hand hygiene.”
A further grim prediction is that it could “fuel existing racial tensions”.
The report reads: “Mass population testing will likely reveal higher rates of infection in areas of high deprivation where many in BAME groups reside.
“This has the potential to fuel existing racial tensions but also the potential to provide welcomed support depending on whether and how tensions are anticipated and testing is implemented.”
It goes on to recommend working with community leaders to produce advertising to explain the reasons behind mass testing.