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Liverpool introduces mass testing for secondary school pupils

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A Madrid Emergency Service (SUMMA) health workers conducts a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 29, 2020
A Madrid Emergency Service (SUMMA) health workers conducts a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 in the southern neighbourhood of Vallecas in Madrid, Spain, Sept. 29, 2020   -   Copyright  Bernat Armangue/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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The army has been sent to Liverpool to help carry out mass testing of children in secondary schools. If parents provide consent, pupils over the age of 11 will be tested twice over a 10-day period as part of the UK’s first mass covid testing trial. Some scientists have raised their concerns about whether enough thought has been put into the protocol.

Pupils turning to up to school across Liverpool are taking part in a city-wide government experiment: mass coronavirus testing.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea," says Liverpool parent Joanne Ellis. "There’s nothing to lose is there really? It’s a couple of minutes out of your day, it doesn’t cost anything. It’s widely available in Liverpool, it’s right on your doorstep. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Soldiers are manning sites all over the city after the army was been drafted in to carry out the tests.

The first phase of a government scheme known as 'Operation moonshot'.

Fake positives?

Liverpool city council believes that mass testing the people of Merseyside will help to break the chain of infection, but some scientists say mass tests aren’t clinically proven to work and that the tests may provide fake positives or false negatives.

“This looks to be a headlong trip into a mess," says former public health director, Dr. Mike Gill. "The point about a mess is it’s much more difficult to get out of it once you’ve got into it.”

Gill is one of a number of experts who say mass testing is a very complex intervention that has to be part of a well-thought-out programme:

“They’ve been caught up in the whole propaganda of it all for completely understandable reasons…We don’t know what the objective of all this is, how it’s going to be achieved, how it’s going to be measured, what the success measures are. We - three weeks, four weeks down the line - may be in no better position to know what the additional benefit or indeed harm of a mass testing programme is if we go about it in this way."

But Liverpool city councillor Paul Brant - the politician responsible for the city's public health - says it's an opportunity to find reservoirs of infection in the community:

"This is a pathfinder exercise for the entire globe. We’re all trying to find the most successful way of trying to balance the interests of carrying on society and trying to do it in a way that doesn’t pose unnecessary risks.”

The fast tests being used in Liverpool have been shown to have reliability issues. But they could help provide crucial data - and stop the spread of COVID-19.

But for the moment – nothing is clear.