Mythbuster - Is rapid mass population testing the answer to the Covid-19 pandemic?

Date published: 23 November 2020

Mass testing is likely to play an increasingly important role in our pandemic response, but it is by no means a solution by itself.

Covid-19 news update

Mass population testing initiatives involve new testing technologies which offer rapid turnaround times.

Pilots are being established in the UK to test the effectiveness and accuracy of these new technologies.

Health Minister Robin Swann has asked the UK Government for a supply of these new tests, called LFDs (lateral flow devices) to Northern Ireland.

If sufficient supply can be made available, this would enable a large pilot of testing of asymptomatic people (those with no symptoms) to be held in Northern Ireland. This pilot could involve general population testing or a more targeted approach involving testing in a particular geographic location or area, or those at higher risk of asymptomatic infection.

Effective mass testing could be an additional safety net to catch at least some of the people who have no symptoms and who will spread the virus without knowing it. Of course, it would only work if sufficient people are picked up early and if those who test positive isolate.

These new rapid tests are not currently as accurate as the laboratory-based tests offered across Northern Ireland (PCR tests) for people who have symptoms of COVID-19.

It needs to be emphasised that these new testing technologies are still at an early stage of development. That’s why the new tests are being rolled out with careful planning and evaluation.

Rapid mass testing can never be our only defence against the virus. It doesn’t remove the need for each of us to follow public health advice to keep ourselves and others safe. We’ve heard it all countless times before but it’s still just as vital – cut down your contacts, maintain social distancing, wear a face covering, wash your hands and download the StopCOVID NI App.

Mass testing also does not remove the need for current restrictions to our daily lives - restrictions that help stop Covid spreading and prevent our hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Notes to editors: 

  1. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email
  2. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  3. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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