It is all too easy to criticise the Government’s quarantine scheme with no credible solutions, but we have one. Forget testing on arrival – it’s pointless. Anyone could be infected on a flight and it wouldn’t show up in the test at the airport because the virus has not had time to multiply.
Instead of the current 14-day quarantine, give people a saliva kit to use on day five after going home. If it’s negative then they’re free to go, dramatically cutting down the inconvenience.
There is currently a team (Halo Verify) of extremely talented, dedicated young scientists in the depths of Imperial College’s start-up labs in White City, beavering away to sort out new ways to make the saliva test better, faster and cheaper.
Our Cancer Centres are running Britain’s first pilot project on cancer. Keeping the virus out of Rutherford’s buildings is crucial – we have some extremely vulnerable patients undergoing treatment that affects their immune systems. Temperature testing, distancing, all the other usual methods are used, but nothing will be as effective as weekly saliva testing. Every Tuesday, our staff give a sample, and early the next morning we have the results.
The long turnaround on Government tests is causing chaos. Operations are on hold, precious beds remain empty and surgeons are twiddling their thumbs because patients can’t get the clearance to enter hospitals. We have to get it moving faster.
Halo are testing a major international airline’s long haul crews at Heathrow on departure. By the time they get to their destinations, the results are available.
In both the airline and cancer treatment settings, understanding the prevalence of the virus in staff is the key to achieving Covid-free environments. What Rutherford and Halo are doing should be used as a template where there are large cohorts of potentially vulnerable people in a variety of settings.
Expanding current testing capacity rapidly is possible, and pooled testing is attractive when the virus is relatively rare. Here, several samples are added together and tested as a whole mix. If a positive is found, then individual testing can locate the infected. No ludicrous waits, no health professionals needed, no swab up the nose.
Worried parents can’t get tests for their ill children, the travel industry has been brought to its knees, cancer care bottlenecks are everywhere. The flaws in swab testing are becoming more apparent.
The saliva solution is ready and waiting – if the Government really wants to have a “world-beating” testing system, then it should just embrace it.