Impact of mass testing facilities and resolution of COVID-19 pandemic

Bottom Line:

Mass testing facilities for COVID-19 could expedite the resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Peto, J. Covid-19 mass testing facilities could end the epidemic rapidly. BMJ (2020). 

Date Published:

22 March 2020


There is an urgent need to establish the capacity to perform weekly SARS-CoV-2 testing for the entire UK population. This, combined with intensive contact tracing, could significantly accelerate the return to normal life as contact tracing would detect any cases in the untested population. The author proposes a framework for establishing weekly nationwide SARS-Cov-2 testing and states that a system of centrally organized facilities with the capacity to test the entire UK population within a week (averaging approximately 10 million tests per day for six days) can be achieved more quickly and cost-effectively than the development of a vaccine. In order to organize such a system, the UK would have to enlist all existing PCR facilities, acquire/manufacture PCR reagents, and agree on protocols for barcode reading in smaller laboratories. Only laboratories that run PCR routinely would participate, and would be subject to central quality control. These machines would have to be run 24 hours a day, with the help of bioscience graduate and postgraduate students already familiar with PCR who work in or near the laboratory. All patients registered with a GP would be sent a test kit (including a nasopharyngeal swab, a transport tube labelled with their name, health number, and a barcode). Homeless individuals could be served to some degree by charity organizations already in contact with them. Individuals may be allowed to resume certain activities outside of the home depending on their testing result. Such a testing protocol will help ameliorate overloading of the medical system by allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment. Subsequent weekly testing, together with behavioural changes and contact tracing would lead to progressively fewer positive tests and could expedite return to normal life. 

Summary by: Spandana Amarthaluru