COVID-19: Liverpool experts challenge flawed reports on lateral flow tests

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND. One of the mass Covid-19 testing centres at the Liverpool Tennis Centre on 8 November 2020. Picture: Jennifer Bruce/Liverpool City Council.

A group of leading experts, including academics from the Universities of Liverpool, Harvard and Oxford, have issued a statement supporting the use of rapid lateral flow antigen tests (Ag-LFTs) as an essential tool in public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ag-LFTs involve a swab of the front of the nose and tonsil area in the throat, which is then put into liquid that is dropped onto a device like a pregnancy test kit, giving a result in 30 minutes.

Ag-LFTs picks up people who are infectious and who might pass the virus onto other people while waiting one or two days for a PCR test.

PCR tests are positive long after an infected person is no longer infectious – so Ag-LFT and PCR have different purposes.

recent press briefing and related articles suggested the tests were inaccurate and potentially harmful. The consensus statement points out the flaws in these arguments and highlights the science that shows Ag-LFT are an important tool for identifying infectious people quickly, even when they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19.

Professor Iain Buchan from the University of Liverpool

In their statement the group, which includes Professor Iain Buchan, Professor Louise Kenny, Professor Calum Semple from the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool Director of Public Health, Professor Matt Ashton, state the previous report was ‘flawed and confused’.

They reject the commentary in the report that Ag-LFTs will cause harm, saying there is no evidence for the “irresponsible” claim.

Professor Buchan said: “Almost half a million people across Cheshire and Merseyside have now had lateral flow tests, identifying over twelve thousand as highly likely to be infectious when they did not know they had the virus and could pass it on, and giving them the result quickly so they can isolate, get their contacts tested and contain the virus in ways that are just not possible with slower, lab-based tests.”

“Through this statement we want the full-spectrum science rather than narrow opinions to be available to the public and policy makers.”

The full statement can be found here.