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22nd December 2020

Covid cases went undetected during student mass testing, study says

A study at the University of Birmingham has discovered that only 3% of lateral flow Coivd-19 tests were correctly identified
Covid cases went undetected during student mass testing, study says
Inside a Manchester University testing bay in University place. Photo: University of Manchester

Widespread student testing in the run-up to Christmas only identified 3% of Covid-19 cases, a new study has found, meaning some undergraduates could have wrongly received negative results before going home.

A study at the University of Birmingham did a retest of 710 “lateral flow” tests out of the total 7,189 who took part in the Government’s mass testing drive across the country.  Of the 710, the initial number of positive tests was two. However, when retested, this figure rose to eight positive cases.

Professor Jon Deeks from the University of Birmingham said: “We found six false-negative cases, we thus estimate that we found two cases and will have missed 60 – because we only double-tested 10 per cent.”

The lateral tests were freely available to all University of Manchester students between the 3rd and 9th December.

Each test was self-administered using a swab which was then mixed with a “buffer solution” by trained professionals. Students had their results in less than an hour.

Rapid testing was implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus across the country and was carried out in numerous universities ahead of the Christmas break including Bristol, York, Leeds and Birmingham.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told The Tab student website: “The country’s leading scientists rigorously evaluated the Lateral Flow Test and confirmed the accuracy of the tests using a sample of over 8,500.

“Latest figures for similar settings showing sensitivity of 57.5% generally and 84.3% in people with high viral loads. This means they are accurate, reliable and successfully identify those with COVID-19 who don’t show symptoms and could pass on the virus without realising. 

“With up to a third of individuals with COVID-19 not displaying symptoms, broadening testing to identify those showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly and break chains of transmission. 

“Anyone who tested positive with a lateral flow test during the university testing earlier this month would have been asked to get a confirmatory PCR test.”

Jess Walmsley

Jess Walmsley

Editor-in-Chief 21/22

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