Chief medical officer reveals government coronavirus testing target not based on specific science

PUBLISHED: 10:48 30 April 2020 | UPDATED: 13:39 30 April 2020

England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, in Whitehall on the day that the prime minister returned to work.

England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, in Whitehall on the day that the prime minister returned to work.

PA Wire/PA Images

The government’s coronavirus testing target was not set based on specific scientific advice, says England’s top medical officer, Chris Whitty.

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Whitty told a Commons science and technology committee that neither he, or other Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advisors, recommended a 100,000-a-day test target..

He said: “SAGE did not give that specific target. SAGE and I have consistently said that one of the things we need is a greater capacity to test across the whole of the UK”.

Whitty said committee members supported the ramp-up but never recommended how it should occur and to what degree. Rather, SAGE advisors were more focused on discovering a reliable antigen test.

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The professor also revealed that finding a vaccine might not be possible and that a small number of people were bein reinfected with the virus.

“On vaccine probability,” he said, “the first thing we do not know is whether you get natural immunity to this disease for a prolonged period of time. If we do not, it does not make a vaccine impossible, but it makes it much less likely, and we simply do not know that yet.”

He added: “There is a little bit of evidence that some people may have been re-infected, having had a previous infection, which is a slightly concerning situation. Certainly, with some other coronaviruses, immunity wanes relatively quickly.”

Whitty estimated that only one in ten Britons have been infected with the virus, that number being slightly higher in London.

He also warned of a “serious second wave” of deaths if lockdown restrictions were eased too quickly and early.

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