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Fact check: False claims about COVID-19 testing in the UK

An image shared online maintains lockdowns are the result of people without symptoms being tested for the novel coronavirus. This is false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The image reads: “Healthy People PLEASE STOP GETTING TESTED! 400,000 ARE BEING PAID TO BE TESTED EVERY WEEK IN THE UK. 90% HAVE NO SYMPTOMS. GOV ADMIT 93% FALSE POSITIVES. LOCKDOWNS END WHEN HEALTHY PEOPLE STOP TESTING FOR COVID. You are KILLING the economy and people!” (here).

Firstly, it is not true that 400,000 people each week are being paid to be tested.

Those who take part in the Office for National Statistics COVID-19 infection survey receive reimbursement (here).

For being tested, participants will receive a voucher which can be used in-store or online with a range of retailers.

The survey, which forms a portion of the government pillar 4 testing, provides insight into the rate of infection and antibody levels in the community (here).

However, the survey has aimed to complete 400,000 tests across the entire project, not every week (here).

The post says 90% of people who get tested have no symptoms.

This likely refers to a University College London study in which 86% of the those who tested positive for the coronavirus were asymptomatic (here).

But this does not mean people should not be tested.

In light of the findings, the epidemiologists concluded that a more widespread testing programme was necessary to catch silent transmission of the disease by those who were asymptomatic (here).

The text says the government said 93% of tests resulted in a false positive result.

A false positive result is when a person who is not infected by the coronavirus tests positive for it.

During an interview with Sky News, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said the challenge of testing passengers at airports was that “the false positive rate is very high, its only 7% of tests that will be successful in identifying those who actually have the virus, so the truth is that you can’t just rely on that” (here).

However, Reuters confirmed with his department that Raab was referencing modelling that indicates that testing passengers once on arrival would only detect 7% of positive cases (here) .

This is because at an early stage of infection there might not be enough of the virus in a person’s body for the test to detect.

The final claim, that lockdowns end when people stop being tested is not true, has already been debunked by Reuters (here).

As previously explained, lockdowns were enforced before widespread testing was available, and the prevalence of the coronavirus, which impacts lockdown measures, is judged not just by the total number of tests conducted, but also the percentage of those tests which yield a positive result.

VERDICT

False. The above points are not evidence that lockdowns are caused by people without symptoms being tested for the coronavirus.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .

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