Operation moonshot mass testing to save Christmas 'could cost £100,000,000,000'

Leaked documents have revealed the government’s plans to test millions of Britons daily as part of a new controversial £100 billion programme.

Under No 10’s Operation Moonshot project, as many as 10 million tests could be carried out daily by early next year, according to reports. This would mean the entire population could be tested in a week.

The government is prepared to spend almost as much as NHS England’s annual £130 billion budget on the UK-wide mass testing programme, according to documents seen by The British Medical Journal (BMJ).

But critics have warned that the proposals could lead to ‘waste/corruption on a cosmic scale’, with concerns raised that mass testing could lead to an increase in false negative results. Some have pointed out that the plan is ‘fundamentally flawed’ as the technology to achieve mass testing does not yet exist.

In a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced efforts to ramp up testing with a target of 500,000 tests a day by October which would turn around results in 20 minutes in a bid to save Christmas – these are not yet available. No 10 hopes the tests will allow the economy to keep moving should there be a second wave, with a trial beginning in Salford next month.

The PM said: ‘In the near future we hope to start using testing to identify people who are negative, who don’t have coronavirus, who are not infectious.

‘So we can allow them to behave in a more normal way in the knowledge they can’t infect anyone else with the virus.’

Under the plans, Britons would swab themselves in the morning and would be allowed to go about their day as usual for the next 24 hours. They could prove their negative result electronically or with a printed card.

But the plans previewed by the prime minister have been criticised by many in the health and scientific community.

Former World Health Organisation director and UCL professor, Anthony Costello, wrote on Twitter: ‘The PMs Moonshot nonsense (no science, feasibility, evidence) has been earmarked for £100bn, almost the entire NHS budget, w contracts for Astra, Serco and G4S.

‘This is waste/corruption on a cosmic scale.’

Council chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA), Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said it is unclear how Operation Moonshot would work given the ‘huge problems’ currently seen with lab capacity.

He added: ‘And the notion of opening up society based on negative tests of those without symptoms needs to be approached with caution – both because of the high rate of “false negatives” and the potential to miss those who are incubating the virus.’

Dr David Strain, clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and chairman of the BMA’s medical academic staff committee, said: ‘The mass-testing strategy is fundamentally flawed, in that it is being based on technology that does not, as yet, exist.

‘The Prime Minister’s suggestion that this will be as simple as “getting a pregnancy test” that will give results within 15 minutes is unlikely, if not impossible, in the timescale he was suggesting to get the country back on track.

‘The worry is that comments such as these may undermine the credibility of some of the other very responsible measures that were announced, notably the halting of the larger social gatherings, delaying the reopening of large venues and moving the “rule of six” from guidance to law.’

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