Boris Johnson‘s plan of mass-testing pupils to keep schools open appeared to be unravelling last night following claims the regulator had withheld its approval.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency would not sign off on the use of rapid 30-minute lateral flow tests for pupils, The Guardian reported.
The Government has denied the claims and defended its use of lateral flow swabs, which experts warn are only suitable for people suffering symptoms.
A Department for Health spokesperson said of the claims: ‘This is not true, the MHRA has not refused to approve rapid testing in schools.
‘Lateral flow devices are a vital tool to finding more asymptomatic cases and the government’s approach to testing in schools will reduce transmission.’
Emmer Green school in Berkshire is closed in the current national lockdown as the UK grapples with a devastating second wave
Boris Johnson has a close look at a sample at the Lateral Flow Testing Laboratory during a visit to the Public Health England site
Lateral flow tests are most effective at detecting infections in people with high viral loads of Covid-19 and are supposed to cater for those displaying symptoms.
That the Government is hoping to deploy them in schools to test largely asymptomatic children was the reason the MHRA supposedly refused to give approval.
Sources told The Guardian the regulator did not want a negative test result to give pupils the green light to come into the classroom and potentially spread the disease.
Weekly testing of teachers and students is currently happening at some schools, which vulnerable children and key-worker children are still attending.
The Government claims it daily testing been successfully trialled in 12 pilot schools and colleges in England already, and ministers hope to roll it out nationwide.
Daily testing was at the heart of the Prime Minister’s roadmap to get children back into classrooms with the Government already investing £78million into the scheme.
Naomi Carpenter, a 20-year-old sports rehab student at Hull University, takes a swab for a lateral flow Covid-19 test
Ministers believed the regime could easily identify infected children and prevent incidents of whole year-groups having to self-isolate due to a handful of positive cases.
The initiative was part of the prime minister’s £100billion ‘Operation Moonshot’ mass-testing plan, with education secretary Gavin Williamson calling it a ‘major milestone’.
The MHRA has granted an exceptional use authorisation for self-use of lateral flow tests to be used to help find asymptomatic cases.
But concerns have been repeatedly raised over the rapid lateral flow tests that promise to give results in 30 minutes.
Official figures from a trial in Liverpool found they missed 30 per cent of people with a high viral load and half of the positive cases detected using a standard nasal swab.
The Government has already spent at least £1.5 billion on the devices and they have already been used in universities, care homes and hospitals.
This week ministers announced more would be distributed to 317 local authorities in England.