Liverpool mass testing: Just over a quarter of city tested in pilot

Health officials believe many people in Liverpool have not come forward for testing because they can't afford to self isolate. 

140,000 people in the city have been tested in the last two weeks, with hundreds of asymptomatic positive cases being found.

But Dr Andrew Furber, North West Director for Public Health England, told ITV News ‘there needs to be more support available, not only in terms of the financial support available but also around childcare’ if people are to be encouraged to come forward.

  • Dr Andrew Furber discussing the difficulties self-isolation poses

It comes amid concern that the pilot scheme isn't reaching people in more disadvantaged parts of the city. In an interview with ITV News, the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said he hopes the scheme will reach 70% of the population, far above the current figures of just over a quarter of the population.

The Mayor of Liverpool also signed a letter thanking residents in the city for the part they have played in the pilot so far, saying 'the risk of doing nothing is not worth contemplating.'

Earlier this week Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that the pilot was going in the "right direction" but stressed the need for more people to take part. Liverpool City Council has plans to work with charities and community groups to take the tests to target areas in the coming weeks. 

The Coronavirus R rate is thought to be below one in the North West, with the national number being just above 1.

  • Tim Scott reports from a Covid ward at Whiston Hospital

Concerns have also been raised about whether people who test positive are following the rules and self-isolating for 14 days. That data is not being collected as part of the Liverpool pilot scheme, but a study by Kings College London found only 11% of people are abiding fully by the self-isolation rules. 

The Department for Health and Social Care says it believes 55% of people are self-isolating when asked to do so. The Government’s scientific advisors have warned the figure needs to be more that 90% for mass testing to be effective.

How accurate are the lateral flow tests?

An evaluation report found the tests are more effective when used by health care workers than by other members of the public. 

  • 73% of positive cases are picked up when the lateral flow test is carried out by a healthcare worker.

  • 58% of positive cases are picked up when the lateral flow test is carried out by ‘self-trained members of the public’ (such as the army).

But those who support the rollout of the tests point to them being most effective at picking up people with a ‘high viral load’, those who are most infectious. 

0.32% of tests will return a ‘false positive’, meaning that if 100,000 people are tested you could expect to receive 320 tests that wrongly tell the person they have the virus. 

In Liverpool, those who test positive have been given a second more accurate test, to check they are not wrongly being told to self-isolate.

Will mass testing take place in other towns and cities as well? Thousands of rapid ‘lateral flow’ tests that are being used in Liverpool are being sent out to local authorities to use as they wish.

Unlike in Liverpool, where two thousand troops were brought in to help administer the tests, ITV News understands it is unlikely the armed forces will be brought in in the same way elsewhere in the North West.

Public Health Directors believe they can use the lessons learned from Liverpool to design their own plans - which may involve testing workers at specific businesses, or using the tests in care homes or schools.

Liverpool City Council says it hopes to continue testing people who don't have symptoms, but that won't necessarily be the case elsewhere.