MASS home Covid testing is "misguided and unlikely to reduce transmission", according to public health experts.

Both England and Scotland have introduced lateral flow tests which the public can access for free twice a week in order to carry out rapid Covid tests at home as lockdown measures are eased.

The devices, rolled out as part of the Operation Moonshot initiative, are intended to pick up asymptomatic cases in the population to limit the spread of the virus.

However, Dr Angela Raffle, a public health consultant at Bristol University, and Dr Mike Gill, the former regional director of public health for South East England, argue that mass testing of healthy people is not effective.

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Writing in the BMJ, they highlight examples such as cervical cytology screening, which saw 40 million people scanned proactively between 1964 to 1985 with "no net benefit".

Deaths from cervical cancer fell only after the introduction of a programme which "reached those at highest risk and took appropriate action after each test result", they said.

They note that the UK "is already performing more coronavirus tests per case detected than anywhere in the world with little effect according to the Public Accounts Committee", and that there are no plans in place to evaluate the benefits achieved by universal Covid testing.

They add: "A key justification cited by government for mass testing of asymptomatic people at low risk is the assertion that 'up to one third' of cases are symptomless, although it doesn’t define what is meant by a case or by symptoms.

"Evidence is growing that transmission arises overwhelmingly from people with symptomatic infections and their contacts."

HeraldScotland: Lateral flow tests were used to allow university students to return home at ChristmasLateral flow tests were used to allow university students to return home at Christmas

Low compliance with self-isolation among those who test positive has been highlighted as a key weakness in the policy by other scientists and psychologists, who argue that it would be more cost-effective to invest in support to enable and encourage infected people to stay at home.

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Drs Raffle and Gill also argue that previous experiments in mass testing have failed to deliver an appreciable result in terms of curbing infections.

They write: "The December surge of infections in Liverpool, where trained testers screened a quarter of the population, was no lower than in other cities without screening.

"The effects of screening university students from December remain unclear, and data have not been made public.

"Care homes conducting asymptomatic testing have struggled to adhere to protocols and experienced no fewer outbreaks than care homes without asymptomatic testing.

"From early March, testing of millions of schoolchildren was accompanied by a shortlived rise in the ascertainment of school age cases, but there is no evidence of change in the trajectory of case rates in older age groups, suggesting a lack of effect on onward transmission."

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They note that the World Health Organisation "has never advised testing low risk people" and add that mass home testing could even be counterproductive.

They write: "False positive results will be a problem when prevalence is low, even with PCR confirmation.

"And the temptation for people with symptoms to opt for unsupervised, rapid, and lower sensitivity self-testing may lead to false reassurance [of a negative result], as happens with other screening, leading to potential increases in transmission."