Nicola Sturgeon has defended the Test and Protect system after a think tank said it was having almost no impact on slowing the spread of coronavirus.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown’s think tank, Our Scottish Future, said the system was detecting a smaller proportion of cases than elsewhere in the UK – though the First Minister said the methodology used in its report was flawed.
However, she pledged to roll out further mass community testing for asymptomatic people in order to “narrow the gap” between the number of positive cases found by test results and the total number of infected people estimated to be in the population.
The First Minister was asked about the think tank’s report at the daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.
She said there was a “genuine and legitimate issue that all countries face” about the gap between positive cases and the overall level of infection, but added: “we would take serious issue with the methodology used here to get to the specific conclusions”.
She continued: “If you look at the methodology, you can see that it’s flawed, because it would imply that Northern Ireland in recent days has had a detection rate that’s greater than 100%, which is clearly not possible.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “What we try to do to narrow that gap – and we’ve just had a discussion with the Health Secretary and the CMO this morning – is doing more widespread community mass testing in order to pick up more asymptomatic cases of the virus.”
The First Minister was also asked about comments from Scottish Government adviser Professor Mark Woolhouse, who told the BBC’s Drivetime radio show less than half of cases were being detected – which he likened to “fighting the epidemic with one arm tied behind our back”.
She said he was a “very respected academic” and the knowledge gained from trials of mass asymptomatic testing would be used more widely.
Our Scottish Future compared daily rates for positive coronavirus tests to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) estimates of the total number of people who had the virus.
Over a six-week period ending January 2 the ONS estimated a daily average of around 43,379 people in Scotland had Covid-19, including asymptomatic cases, based on statistical modelling of population samples.
The think tank’s report found 32% of the total cases in Scotland were being picked up – with the equivalent figure for England being 41% while Wales was at 70% and Northern Ireland at 81%.
They said this rendered the system almost ineffective at slowing down the virus, despite Scotland harvesting more contacts in each interview with an infected person.
The Scottish Government earlier said the findings were “inaccurate”, with a spokesman saying: “We find – and therefore isolate – more contacts per case than the rest of the UK which means we isolate more potential cases without the need for testing”.
National clinical director Jason Leitch also spoke about the report, saying he was confident the report’s premise was “false”.
He said: “We don’t test every contact because we want that disease out of circulation, we want it in homes, self-isolated.
“And that’s where we do very, very well.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe