Has the Covid-19 testing system been compromised?


43,000 PCR tests from a Wolverhampton laboratory owned by Immensa Health Clinic may have granted incorrect negative results, according to the UK Health Security Agency. Operations within the building have ceased and the issue has been labelled as an isolated incident, caused not by tests but — put bureaucratically — “technical issues”. Remarkably, whatever may have transpired within those walls between the 8th and 12th of October, the UK still reels from its impact.

Corporatisation and exploitation

As authorities scramble to contact patients of the company, testing sites across the country have been slowed. Samples are being redirected to other locations and unknown numbers of potentially infected students and workers have circulated amongst their communities under a false sense of security. While reassuring that equipment did not lie at the heart of the problem, should the magnitude and fallout of such a blunder weaken the trust of the British public in the coronavirus testing effort? In fact, does this demonstration of scale on which these examinations are carried out expose the corporatisation and exploitation of a new market?

Immensa shares a profile with many of the newest health clinics across the country; founded as a private company in May 2020, it was handed £150 million by the UK government in a scurry to secure relief to the coronavirus pandemic. In July of this year, it was bestowed £50 million more.

As Britons addressed work and travel across the past two years, they were confronted quickly with the necessity of an abundance of testing and were pointed towards a rather confusing list of government-endorsed tests currently ranging in price from £1.25 to £675. In earlier months of the pandemic, a PCR test would be hard to find for less than £40. To exacerbate the situation, the type of test required often depends on unapparent information deep into corporate and ministerial websites. Stories about being turned away at airport gates due to an inadequate test provider or type are frequent and are difficult to avoid without gratuitous time for research and money.

Enormous disruption

Bearing in mind the use of large-scale sample examinations which cost little to carry out, such disparity in prices and techniques between government-subsidised companies is a clear indicator of the type of profit that some are turning. However, little effort has been made to correct the confusion (and often monetary hardship) that testing requirements create. For most, there are necessities to either work, travel, or both and testing mandates make it impossible for consumers to avoid clear price gouging.

“We have all experienced enormous disruption to our lives over this pandemic, but it is not right if some families experience yet further disruption unnecessarily because of potentially unfair practices in the market for private travel tests”, remarked Health Secretary Sajid Javid in August. Is it morally responsible for corporations to make such profit off the back of a health emergency?

Durham University’s coronavirus testing plan since the beginning of the pandemic has been hard to rebuke. After rigorously advising its students to test twice a week, from October 2020 to June 2021, a total of 140,000 tests were dispensed for a total bill of £580,000. Of these, 426 were positive (0.3%) and were followed up by mandatory quarantine and further testing. Paired with the use of masks inside university buildings, this strategy has largely worked.

It follows then that if the general public were to lose trust in the national testing effort because of such gaffes as in Wolverhampton, they would be doing it for the wrong reason. It might be logical, on the other hand, to worry about the extent to which the money dished out to relieve a health crisis is going to waste, both by Durham and the nation, and why.

Image: Guido Hofman via Unsplash

One thought on “Has the Covid-19 testing system been compromised?

  • Now for everyone it is an important point of safe travel. But I don’t consider it any difficulty, besides, you can do the test for free with insurance, you can find covid-19 testing for travel services here


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