Lewisham to trial rapid ‘pregnancy style’ Covid tests

Lateral flow covid test in Wales. Pic: Ben Birchall

Lewisham has been chosen – alongside 66 other regions in the UK – to roll out the Government’s new mass testing strategy.

The lateral flow test has been likened to a pregnancy test and can be processed on site, giving results in as quickly as 15 minutes. It is seen as an alternative to the criticised 14-day isolation period, which is mandatory if someone has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

The council is now waiting for the first batch of testing kits to arrive. A spokesperson told Eastlondonlines: “Lewisham will be one of several councils across London to roll out new rapid tests which will allow many more people in Lewisham to get tested.”  

“We’re learning more about the transmission of the virus all the time and we intend to prioritise these rapid tests among groups and in settings where we know the virus spreads more easily.” 

“Whilst we haven’t confirmed the delivery of the first batch of tests, we plan to start the roll out in the coming weeks.”

Although Lewisham has one of the lowest rates of infection in London, it still had an alarming total of 400 new cases reported last week, and the rate per 100,000 cases is at 128.8.

Dr Catherine Mbema, Lewisham’s Director of Public Health said: “The government has indicated that we could roll out up to 10,000 tests every week, rising to 10% of our population.” 

While “this is positive news”, Mbema accepted it is going to be a “huge logistical project”, with top-up kits being delivered from now until the end of March – when a vaccine is expected to be available.

Last Friday, she visited Sedgehill Secondary School in Beckenham, to see the pilot in action. The school has been trialling the lateral flow tests on a significant number of their students, staff, and teachers over recent weeks.

Testing in Lewisham: If you need a test in Lewisham, you need to book an appointment to visit the testing unit or order a home testing kit. The mobile testing unit is available every three days at Lewisham Lorry Parks, Catford, London, SE6 2TX (adjacent to Laurence House) open from 10.00. Please wear a face covering when you visit a testing site. The local testing is available 7 days a week from 8am-8pm at Vanguard car park in Deptford, offering appointments to people without cars who can safely travel on foot, without coming into contact with others. A local testing site at Molesworth Street car park will also be opening from next week. 

Logistics, evidence, and accuracy

The roll out follows the ‘Operation Moonshot’ pilot scheme in Liverpool which began on November 6.

According to the BBC, Public Health England said the tests in Liverpool found an extra 700 people who had the virus without any symptoms and who may not have been detected otherwise.

However, there have been fears raised about low participance levels, and last week the council created a survey asking residents what barriers they see as preventing them from getting a voluntary test.

The question of accuracy also remains prevalent. An evaluation by Oxford University and the Public Health England site at Porton Down found that “the test misses between one in two and one in four cases… [and has a] false positive rate of 0.6%.” 

In places with a low infection rate, this could mean that for every person found positive, another person may be wrongly instructed to self-isolate.

While many are relieved that the government is taking what they see as a proactive stance to tackling the virus; Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the British Medical Journal that there was “insufficient evidence” for rolling out what was an “extraordinary experiment.”

Adding that scheme could cause “significant diversion of healthcare resources,” from other areas which could be used in tackling the virus.

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