A senior Sage scientist told The Telegraph the group had never supported the introduction of weekly tests for the population, suggesting such schemes were better targeted at “high-risk” groups.
The paper published by Sage warned that enforcement of mass testing, and subsequent isolation, could be seen as “authoritarian” and may not be accepted by the public.
The briefing, by a Sage sub-group, said the measures could fuel racial tensions, meet resistance from employers and undermine confidence in all testing.
The paper, by the group’s multidisciplinary task and finish group on mass testing, said the success of such a programme depended on trust in those running test and trace systems and the perceived credibility of the Government.
It suggested methods to enforce testing, and subsequent self-isolation, could include fines, “denying entry to public spaces without electronically validated proof of being virus-free” or supervised quarantine.
“The acceptability of these different methods varies across countries, with harsher measures more likely to be applied in authoritarian regimes – and context – with harsher measures more acceptable as a condition upon entry or re-entry to a country,” it said.
It also warned that employers and employees may resist such programmes, saying: “Some employers and employees do not want to be self-isolating so are resistant to mass testing.”
The paper suggested such problems arose in Leicester when restrictions were introduced there.
The use of mass testing, and the high numbers of people likely to be asked to self-isolate, “could lead to significant loss of income to some employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises”, it noted.
“Mass population testing will likely reveal higher rates of infection in areas of high deprivation where many in BAME groups reside,” it said. “This has the potential to fuel existing racial tensions.”
But Sage sources said mass testing of the entire population was never a priority of the committee, which had suggested that reserving tests for the most high-risk groups would be more beneficial.