London, July 6 (IANS) The UK government is set to throw away more than 40 million rapid Covid tests in the national stockpile as they have expired, media reports said.
The disposal of lateral flow devices (LFDs) comes at a time when infection rates are once again surging.
Data obtained by a Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that in total, 40,742,096 tests held in the national stockpile had passed their expiry date by March 2022, the Independent reported.
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), much of the expired stock was largely purchased at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021. Most lateral flow devices expire after two years.
It was “utterly scandalous for the UK to have hoarded Covid-19 tests that are desperately needed around the world”, Anna Marriott, a health policy manager for Oxfam, was quoted as saying.
“Testing is essential to track and control this pandemic. Yet testing rates in the UK are as much as 120 times higher than in countries with lower vaccination rates like Sierra Leone.”
“The government would seemingly rather bin tests than protect the world. It’s deeply short-sighted and will prolong the pandemic for us all,” Marriott added.
Some of the now out-of-date tests were held back during the first Omicron wave for being less effective in detecting the new variant, the UKHSA said. However, scientists have challenged the claim.
In addition, a lab-based analysis of the different LFDs in use in England, carried out by the agency in December 2021 also found “no change in performance when trialled on Omicron”, the report said.
“Some LFDs were found to be less effective against Omicron than previous variants, therefore they did not pass our rigorous validation process and in the interest of public safety were not used,” Oliver Munn, chief operating Officer for Covid-19 testing at UKHSA, was quoted as saying.
The Zoe Health Study, which tracks Covid-19 symptoms through a mobile phone app, shows that one in 21 people are currently testing positive for the virus across the UK and have symptoms.
UK health chiefs have warned it is likely that hospitalisations in the present wave — driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants — will exceed the April peak, when 16,600 patients were in hospital with or because of Covid, the report said.