A View From Ireland on the Corona Threat

Correspondence: ‘Test Test Test’ should mean Mass Testing!

Belfast Plebeian

28 March 2020

As all manner of right-wing Governments take on emergency powers to control the virus pandemic, powers that they may never relinquish, the alternative to police State lockdowns is being ignored, the orderly testing of the population beginning with health workers and proceeding to the most vulnerable at risk from developing serious illness. We know that testing for the presence of the virus is the best solution short of a vaccine because of the experience of the small town of Vó north of Venice. Helped by researchers from the University of Padua and volunteers of the Red Cross the town made up of 3,300 people were all tested without exception. When the social experiment began on 6th March some 90 people were known to be infected, as of now the increase has been stopped by isolating those with the virus. Mass testing worked!

The researchers discovered the real problem set by the corona virus was that no one could know how far and how fast the infection had spread to the population. After mass testing, it was discovered that at least six people, ‘super spreaders’, were infecting others because they were not sick, they were asymptomatic. We also know that some people are pre-symptomatic, not sick but likely to be in three or four days’ time. It fits with common sense to believe that this is how the virus is spread, after all if someone is showing signs of sickness you take steps to avoid them, if they seem fine then you carry on as normal when in contact with them especially if they are family or friend.

Yet in most countries including Ireland and Britain testing has been small enough to be called non-existent. To date in the North of Ireland only 2,989 people have been tested and in the South about 10,000. The front line health workers are crying out to be tested and still it is not happening. The evidence is clear that health workers are being infected more often than any other group, and they have reason to be worried because of greater exposure, a larger viral load often results in worse outcomes, 24 Italian doctors have already died working with corona patients.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday last the health minister Robin Swann said there is not enough capacity to carry out mass testing here at this time. He professed the incapacity of the health department in a context where at least two local companies Randox Laboratories and Biopanda Reagents have developed testing kits that are being sold to private businesses and some States around the world, the recent scandal in England over some private doctors asking for £300 per test were said to be using the kits purchased in the North of Ireland by Randox Laboratories.

When the company sales manager was asked on the Nolan radio show about the testing capacity of Randox he was told that they have two large facilities in Antrim and Donegal that could do much more testing than they were currently doing. The sales manager said they had not been approached by the NI Executive or the NHS about acquiring their help with testing. What became clear though was that cost was a prohibitive factor, Randox was charging £112 per test. Also Biopanda sales manager is quoted in the Daily Telegraph “there has been a huge demand for the tests, however there have been no orders from the NHS.”

If the reason why we can’t mass test is that some private companies are charging too much for the NHS to reasonably pay then we have the solution, take control of the private companies and increase the testing! To hell with their shareholders!

From the website of Socialist Democracy