It wasn’t long ago that questioning the validity of the PCR tests was conisdered a covid conspiracy theory which could see you banned from social media platforms.
Now, one of the biggest selling newspapers in the UK, the Mail on Sunday is investigating whether ‘the science’, that the government claimed to be following during the pandemic, was actually flawed.
Many were blasted for suggesting that the PCR tests, used to diagnose the corona virus, might have been picking up people who weren’t actually infected. There were even some who dared to suggest that the swabs, which have been carried out more than 200 million times in the UK alone, may have mistaken common colds and flu for covid.
BYPASS THE CENSORS
Sign up to get unfiltered news delivered straight to your inbox.
The MoS reports: If either, or both, were true, it would mean many of these cases should never have been counted in the daily tally – that the ominous and all-too-familiar figure, which was used to inform decisions on lockdowns and other pandemic measures, was an over-count.
And many of those who were ‘pinged’ and forced to isolate as a contact of someone who tested positive – causing a huge strain on the economy – did so unnecessarily.
Such statements, it must be said, have been roundly dismissed by top experts. And those scientists willing to give credence such concerns have been shouted down on social media, accused of being ‘Covid-deniers’, and even sidelined by colleagues.
But could they have been right all along?
Today, in the first part of a major new series, The Mail on Sunday investigates whether ‘the science’ that The Government so often said they were following during the pandemic was flawed, at least in some respects.
In the coming weeks we will examine if Britain’s stark Covid death figure was overblown. We will also ask if lockdowns did more harm than good.
LISTEN TO THE DEBATE NOW ON MEDICAL MINEFIELD
Were the pandemic infection figures deliberately ‘sexed up’ to scare people in complying with lockdown rules?
But this week, we tackle the debate around Covid tests, and examine whether there is any truth to the claims that they were never fit for purpose.
Last month a report by the research charity Collateral Global and academics at Oxford University concluded as much, stating that as many as one third of all positive cases may not have been infectious.
If they are right, that’s a potentially staggering number – roughly six million cases.
The Oxford scientists branded the UK’s testing programme – which cost an eye-watering £2bn-a-month – as ‘chaotic and wasteful’.
It is, say these critics, not simply important that we learn from our mistakes.
For while testing will now only be routine offered to patients when they come into hospitals, or in other clinical settings, and to the vulnerable, PCRs will still be used to track the spread of the virus in the community. And should there be a resurgence, that number will once again inform policy.
Nearly two years on from the first lockdown, how sure can we be that cases weren’t, as some have argued, overstated?
As ever with anything Covid-related, it’s a complex and nuanced picture, and there is far from a consensus on this point.
Collateral Global’s figure has been disputed, and other scientists say that if non-infectious positives did distort case numbers, it was by a minimal amount. Others dismiss any notion that testing played anything other than a vital role in our fight against Covid.
But as Professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London’s Genetics Institute, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Many people may not have been infectious, despite getting a positive test.’
Key to understanding the issue lies in how PCR tests work and the Government decisions that dictated how they were used.
PCRs detect tiny fragments of Covid genes, known as RNA, in samples taken from the nose and throat. To do this, swabs are treated in a lab with chemicals to extract the genetic material.
There is such a tiny amount of RNA on the swabs that it has to be amplified in a machine before it can be detected. This is done by repeating a cycle of heating and cooling, which encourages the genetic material to make copies of itself.
The more times the cycle is performed, the more copies are made and the more likely it is the machine will detect the virus.
This technique has been used successfully for non-Covid viruses, such as HIV and hepatitis, and in crime scene forensics when looking for DNA. It’s very good at working out whether minuscule amounts of genetic code are there or not.
But when it comes to Covid, there is a problem. The very small amounts could either be from a live virus – which means someone is potentially infectious – or dead fragments left over from a previously cleared infection.
And these dead fragments can linger for up to 90 days, according to studies
Experts also say some people who got Covid but were asymptomatic or barely affected – and, the evidence shows, less likely to transmit it – might also test positive and have to isolate.
Another concern lies in how the PCR tests were performed.