- Dr Jenny Harris said a few thousand missed cases are still likely to be contagious
- Boris Johnson said today that officials are investigating what went wrong
- Immensa Health Clinic processes PCR mostly from the South West of England
- But an investigation found that it may have been testing the swab incorrectly.
- Health chiefs said they would ask affected people to undergo a second test
After 45,000 Covid-infected Britons at a Wolverhampton lab falsely told they did not have the virus, health chiefs have launched an urgent investigation into the PCR testing network.
The head of the UK Health Protection Agency, Dr Jenny Harris, said ‘a few thousand’ of the missed cases – mostly in the South West – were still contagious. People from the South East and Wales are also known to be affected.
He said a ‘serious incident investigation’ was launched to ‘make sure we can find them as soon as possible’ to see if there are any further problems with the other labs.
Boris Johnson told reporters on a visit to Bristol that officials were still “investigating” what went wrong at the testing centre. But the prime minister insisted that the nuisance does not affect the ‘overall’ number of cases.
However, Kit Yates, a senior lecturer at the University of Bath and a member of the independent Sage Scientific Advisory Group, cautioned that knowing the number of false negatives ‘doesn’t come close to the price of a mistake’.
He added: ‘Many of these people would have been forced out of school or work, potentially infecting others.
‘This may be part of the reason behind some of the growth we’ve seen recently. It’s really important that we have lateral flow tests, which, at the very least, allow us to understand that there was a problem, even if people are not allowed to act on the results.
‘We need to find out what really happened here to make sure it doesn’t happen again elsewhere.’
Immensa Health Clinic was awarded a £120million contract by the government last year to conduct analysis of PCR tests from centers in the Southwest. The firm was given a further £50 million in a renewal deal in July.
But today its Covid testing operation was suspended after an investigation revealed that the lab had mis-analyzed thousands of PCR swabs in a mistake that occurred on September 8.
Covid testers on the site were filmed fighting, playing football, sleeping and throwing snowballs in January while the country was frozen under lockdown.
Professor Alan McNeely, a microbiologist at the University of Birmingham, said he ‘can’t fathom’ how the human trials were mixed up. He said there were potentially too many errors because the appropriate controls were ‘not being used’.
Italian CEO Andrea Riposati, who was educated at Imensa’s Harvard Business School, claimed he was cooperating fully with executives and insisted that ‘quality is paramount’ for the firm.
The company was only founded last May, months before the first deal was awarded by then-Matt Hancock’s health department. It is owned by Dante Labs, which is currently under scrutiny for failing to deliver day-two and day-eight PCR tests on time and issuing refunds to customers.
The test flaws were revealed only after an immediate check of the accuracy of the PCR tests, after thousands of complaints they tested positive with lateral flow, only to receive negative results from the gold-standard PCR procedure.
Scientists today urged Britons to keep doing PCR testing, saying it was an isolated issue in a laboratory.
Employees of the Immensa Health Clinic in Wolverhampton were filmed (pictured) fighting with each other in January. This was at the peak of the first wave and when the country was under strict lockdown
They were also recorded playing football together at the testing center while on duty.
Immensa Health Clinic in Wolverhampton has been suspended after an investigation revealed that it may have processed PCR tests incorrectly. The Lab (pictured) has been paid £120 million by the taxpayer for its services
The latest test and trace data shows that 16 percent of secondary school children in England who tested positive using a rapid test in the week to 6 October were found to be negative for the virus after taking a PCR.
The graph shows the number of PCR tests (blue bars) performed daily in the UK. Currently more than 400,000 swabs are analyzed daily, which is almost half of the capacity (grey area)
Graphic show: Step-by-step process for PCR test completed via postal delivery
West Berkshire Council called him to visit the Newbury Showground (pictured) for another trial
The UK’s health protection agency, which took over from the now-closed PHE, is still trying to figure out what went wrong. However, health officials dismissed the issue as faulty tests.
West Berkshire Council today urged everyone tested at one of its sites between 3 and 12 October to get a second swab.
Dr Harris told the BBC that anyone affected by the swabbing problem would be contacted by Test and Trace, whose tests were done on a priority basis over the past ten days.
Q&A: Everything you need to know about Immensa Health Clinic
How many tests does it do?
Officials said Immensa has done more than 400,000 swabs since September 8, the equivalent of about 11,400 a day.
The company says online that it has completed more than three million Covid tests at its Wolverhampton site since it was founded in May last year.
Who was affected by this disturbance?
Officials said some 45,000 Britons may have been given false Covid results.
The site primarily processes PCR swabs from centers in the Southwest, but also tests tests from other parts of the country.
What caused the trial error?
Officials are still puzzled as to what led to the error in PCR tests at present.
But analyzing each swab for virus involves multiple steps and complex machinery.
What’s going on inside the lab?
Once the Covid swab arrives in the lab, it is processed…