Half of coronavirus cases in UK still not being identified, expert warns

9 November 2020, 10:33

The UK could be missing around 50 per cent of its coronavirus cases
The UK could be missing around 50 per cent of its coronavirus cases. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Around half of the UK's coronavirus cases are still not being found, a pandemics expert has warned.

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, claimed the real number of daily positive tests in Scotland and the UK could be twice as high as is currently being recorded.

He said these figures mean that attempts to control the Covid-19 pandemic are being done "with one hand tied behind our back".

The professor sits on a sub-group of the UK Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and is a member of the Scottish Government's coronavirus advisory group.

Prof Woolhouse said "hopefully" the mass testing scheme, which began its pilot in Liverpool last week, will be successful in combating the issue.

From Friday, anyone in the city can be repeatedly tested for Covid-19 regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.

Read more: Hundreds queue in Liverpool as mass Covid testing pilot begins

Read more: Covid infection rate slowing in England and Wales, but still rising - ONS

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Speaking on BBC Scotland's Seven Days programme, Prof Woolhouse said: "The problem that testing pilot scheme in Liverpool is trying to solve is that we're still not finding about half of the Covid cases in Scotland or in the UK more generally.

"That's a very high proportion."

He added: "It's probably partly because many of them are asymptomatic or so mildly infected they don't recognise the symptoms, partly because people do have symptoms but actually genuinely aren't recognising them as Covid - I've heard a few cases of that in the last week - and also the possibility that some people are having symptoms and actually ignoring them, perhaps because they don't want to go into self-isolation.

"Whatever the reason, those missed 50 per cent of cases - it's like trying to control the epidemic with one hand tied behind our back. We can't do it effectively if those cases are not also being self-isolated and their contacts traced.

"It's going to make it much more difficult.

"The idea of Liverpool is to try and find these cases and hopefully ... persuade them to self-isolate."

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