Amid the government’s statements about mass testing programmes throughout the coronavirus crisis, reservations have often been expressed about the efficacy of mass PCR testing. These are the types of tests on which the majority of the UK’s testing efforts have relied. Where advocates for the large-scale testing of the population argue that it is an essential method for getting a grip on Britain’s epidemic, critics often point to shortcomings in the nature of the tests themselves, including the possibility of false positive and negative results.
So who is right? Well, the debate isn’t always quite as binary as it seems. Scientists who are proponents of mass testing tend to acknowledge what testing can and cannot do while those who are sceptical about mass testing programmes often value a more targeted approach to testing rather than no testing at all. This targeted testing would in practice mean prioritising specific locations such as hospitals and care homes over the testing of the healthy population in the community.