Note: this is about right now. This is not to say that I applaud this government and its approach, not at all.
The UK government has lied a lot in the past ten years and also often sucks at communicating well. That is causing some problems now, I noticed on Twitter.
“There are 12,000 ventilators” followed by “8,000 within the NHS” does not by definition mean that the government is lying but may mean that its communication skills are not up to par.
It could mean:
- 4,000 on the way to the NHS;
- 4,000 within the Navy, Army, Air Force, private facilities and also some on the way to the NHS;
Something similar is going on with COVID-19 tests and reagents. It is very hard to find info in the UK as it is a low-transparency country. (I for example found detailed information about a local water treatment facility (Budd’s Farm) in the Netherlands some years ago, but was unable to find much about it in the UK.)
I looked into it, found some info on the CDC site, spotted the name Roche, and remembered something I had read in the Dutch news. The Netherlands is much more transparent than the UK, so I looked into that angle.
It may also be helpful to keep in mind that the Netherlands is a highly egalitarian country. A lot of the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the UK would not be permitted in the Netherlands. (I am not saying that none goes on there.)
Roche makes a lot of the equipment needed for the tests and that equipment requires certain chemicals to run. Roche also manufactures the required lysis buffer and was briefly not able to keep up with global demand.
It initially was not willing to share the secret “recipe” either. It did later release it after all, but it is actually not that easy to make so it cannot simply be made by anyone and has to involve certification of the labs who make the stuff. Roche currently is able to keep up with demand again, so I understand.
In addition, the Dutch health minister, too, mentioned shortages in other test-related materials on 27 March.
(The UK government specifically mentioned a shortage of swabs.)
Main source (a reliable Dutch newspaper): https://www.trouw.nl/zorg/farmaceut-roche-deelt-toch-het-recept-voor-coronatests~bdb6a844/
I am assuming that the UK is using the same test as the Netherlands or a very similar test (which is also likely the same as the US is using). (I have a report – collection of international information – from a Belgian university in my pc that probably has details on that; I will see what it says and add that info later.)
Conclusion: The UK government for once appears to be NOT LYING.
The information given by the UK government appears to match the information available in the Netherlands.
(The – possibly inadvertent – spin in the UK currently appears to be coming from… Labour?, I say tentatively, on the basis of the tweets that I saw.)
(As I have posted some tweets from Tory MPs in the past, I should also do it with tweets from other MPs. I have no idea what was said during Newsnight)
From the “living paper” report in my pc (“Overview of information available to support the development of medical countermeasures and interventions against COVID-19” by Martine Denis, Valerie Vandeweerd, Diane Van der Vliet, version 23 March 2020):
A list of assays commercially available for diagnosis of COVID-19 is updated by FIND (https://www.finddx.org/covid-19/). Assays that are still in development stage are also presented.”
The report has a lot more information on testing, but does not state details on which country is using which tests and protocols. If you click on the above link, however, you’ll find a lot of information that indicates that Covid-19 testing requires rigid procedures to be able to work. In other words, ramping up capacity is likely not as simple as some MPs think it is.
(For comparison: You wouldn’t want a sloppy pregnancy test that is often wrong either.)