The views of experts and health professionals on the consequences of ending free testing, “living with the virus”, the situation with long COVID, and the “herd immunity” myth.

First published in April 2022.


“Free LFTs are no longer generally available to members of the public. Most people with symptoms are no longer entitled to free PCR tests either.” (BBC News)

What the experts say...

Dr Christian Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, University of Bath:

“It seems unbelievable that PCR testing in the community, even if you have symptoms, is about to stop.

“At a time when cases are as high as they have ever been we should be testing more and not less.

This is practically the first page in the "how to mismanage a pandemic" play-book.”

— Source: Twitter.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization:

“As many countries reduce testing, WHO is receiving less and less information about transmission and sequencing. This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution.

When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss.

This virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it. It is still spreading, it is still changing, and it is still killing.

“The threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real. And although deaths are declining, we still don’t understand the long-term consequences of infection in those who survive.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Dr William Rodriguez, Infectious Disease Physician, Chief Executive Officer at FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics:

“In the past four months, amid surging COVID cases from the Omicron variant, testing rates have plummeted by 70% to 90% worldwide.

“We have an unprecedented ability to know what is happening. And yet today, because testing has been the first casualty of a global decision to let down our guard, we’re becoming blind to what is happening with this virus.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Professor Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag):

“Lateral flow tests remain useful in high-risk settings such as health care and social care and … prisons and homeless venues. They also remain helpful as a means of protecting vulnerable contacts by testing before visiting, particularly during periods when infection levels are so high and of self-diagnosing symptomatic infection and isolating appropriately.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Dr Stephen Griffin, Virologist, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds:

“It’s not about restricting people’s behaviour, it’s about making sure people can go about their lives in a safe way.

We’re turning a blind eye to this virus, which yes many now have good protection, but by no means all. It’s a mess, in my view, we are just literally ignoring it.

“We are never going to achieve low levels of infection if you are not testing and isolating. It’s missing the point to say vulnerable people have access to them. They don’t need to know when they are infected, they need to know when others are infected.”

— Source: The i newspaper.

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Many countries in the world have decided to remove all the public health protections and asked their populations to live with COVID. But does this strategy actually work?

What the experts say...

Abraar Karan, MD, Infectious Disease Doctor, Stanford University:

“Weird how quickly the strategy shifted to
- disregard cases
- disregard morbidity
- disregard equity
- disregard prevention
- disregard superspreading
- disregard missed days of work
- disregard vaccination gaps
- disregard immunocompromised

All to reassure the public – “all good”.”

— Source: Twitter.

Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, Epidemiologist, Health Economist, Co-Founder of the World Health Network:

““Chaos” at Heathrow Airport as hundred of flights got cancelled or delayed as airlines were hit by staff shortages due to COVID-19. Three hour waits — some flights delayed 24 hours. How is ‘let it rip’ good for the economy?

“The cancellations are due to high levels of staff absence as a result of COVID infections. Naturally.

“Let’s check in the meantime how UK hospitals are doing... oh... pandemic record levels of hospital beds occupied? 12-hour waits for care and surging??? Sounds like a warning about a dystopian future that we are heading towards.”

— Source: Twitter.

Dr Dan Goyal, NHS Medical Consultant, Academic:

“Unbelievably, some are still trying to justify their initial “let it rip” stance on COVID? The evidence is overwhelming: it was the wrong call!

“The error is one thing. The ongoing failure to allow society to learn and prepare for the next variant/pandemic is much worse!

— Source: Twitter.

Dr Nisreen Alwan, Associate Professor in Public Health, University of Southampton. Public Health. Epidemiology:

“‘Living with COVID’ is a poor choice of a term to name policies and media campaigns, in my opinion. Here’s why: those with long COVID are literally living with it. It is highly insensitive and traumatising to use this term in an upbeat fashion for them and those who lost loved ones to COVID.

“It is used in a sense of doing little else other than vaccines about COVID spreading. We live with many other health threats but they don’t have specific and dedicated campaigns normalising them and promoting doing very little about them while they affect a huge number of people.

“The alternative didn’t use to be controversial. It’s what public health has historically done over a long time: have mitigations in place against uncontrolled spread of a highly transmissible infectious disease. It’s not ‘zero COVID’. It’s doing what we can to limit the damage.”

— Source: Twitter.

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1.7 million people are currently living with long COVID in the UK. That is 2.7% of the UK population. 1 in 37 people. Long COVID symptoms adversely affect the day-to-day activities of 1.1 million people, i.e. 67% of long COVID sufferers. (ONS)

What the experts say...

Professor Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London:

“We thought that the number of long COVID cases developing might be lower when most cases were breakthrough cases in the vaccinated, or infections in vaccinated or partially vaccinated children. Sadly, far from any subsidence in new long COVID cases, the big, ongoing caseloads of the Delta, Omicron and BA.2 waves have brought a large cohort of new sufferers.

“Long COVID sufferers need a large-scale recovery trial, fast-tracked to offer them some answers about treatments. Many of the responses offered when they get to the front of the queue at long COVID clinics are about readjustment and rehabilitation in light of their new disability. They do not want readjustment, they want their lives back.

“This is now a highly infectious, upper-respiratory virus able to reinfect repeatedly – an outcome that wasn’t expected early in the pandemic. If we renege on mitigations as each round of infection draws more of all ages into chronic disability, this may be the blunder that we rue for decades to come.”

— Source: The Guardian.

EducationWeek, USA:

“Epidemiologists estimate that 20 to 30 percent, or even as much as 50 percent, of people infected with COVID-19 end up developing long COVID, which encompasses a wide variety of disorders people experience weeks, months, or even years after their initial brush with the disease.

“New data from the EdWeek Research Center show that 19 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders surveyed say they have contracted long COVID.

“More instances of long COVID in schools are virtually guaranteed as the virus continues to spread and public mitigation measures like masking and vaccination requirements disappear.”

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What the experts say...

Dr Pramod Kumar Garg, of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, India:

“The results of the study and other recent studies challenge the concept of population-level herd immunity through natural infection alone against Sars-CoV-2 and suggest that vaccinating individuals who were previously infected provides further protection, particularly against severe disease.

These data should help guide policy decisions and mitigate vaccine hesitancy among people who had Sars-CoV-2 infection.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Professor Christina Pagel, Director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, member of Independent Sage:

“The government praise public understanding about how to manage the risk of COVID, but knowledge is only helpful if you can do something with it.

“With the ever-worsening cost of living crisis, millions will not be able to afford to test themselves if they have symptoms or before visiting vulnerable people. With one of the lowest sick pay rates in Europe, millions will not be able to follow government advice to stay home if sick.

“With record infections and rising hospital admissions, this is not the time to remove free access to one of the most fundamental public health tools.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Dr William Hanage, Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology, and Faculty Member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Harvard University:

“After two lockdowns, a huge burden on healthcare and at last an extremely prompt and effective vaccination campaign, the UK has still registered more than 160,000 lives lost to the pandemic, roughly half of them in the Alpha wave.

“And in case you hadn’t noticed, “herd immunity”, much like Godot, has stubbornly failed to arrive and expel the virus from the population. Nobody should be under any illusion: it could have been much worse.”

— Source: The Guardian.

Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, Epidemiologist, Health Economist, Co-Founder of the World Health Network:

““Natural immunity” is generally only best for the variants of COVID-19 that you already had! Not necessarily against future variants.

We epidemiologists have been trying to warn about this for a long time, but it is always drowned out by the “mass-infection + natural herd immunity” crowd.

“We have seen lots of data on this that natural immunity is not always that robust compared to vaccines. Vaccines provide a standard consistent dose. Infections are not always consistent on the dose you got.

“Another CDC study confirms this — that unvaccinated people with prior COVID had 5 times more risk of being hospitalized than vaccinated. Bottom line: natural immunity is not always reliable.”

— Source: Twitter.

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