There are very few deaths in the UK and Europe now that COVID19 has achieved its bell curve and all but gone, but there has been no ‘good news’ from the government or the mainstream media (MSM). On the contrary, the MSM has shifted its focus to the number of positive cases and reports on every increase, however small.
Government policy is now being dictated by the number of positive cases in the country, in specific areas, in specific sections of society. Lockdowns are relaxed when cases seem to be falling and re-imposed when cases seem to be increasing. Manchester, England was recently declared a Major Incident and put back under a severe lockdown after cases were seen to have increased by a small margin even though few were hospitalised and deaths were virtually zero. The COVID19 testing is affecting all our lives.
What then is this test, how accurate is it and what does an increase in positive cases actually mean?
The RT-qPCR test (Real-Time Quantitative Reverse-transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction) attempts to detect the presence of the virus by analysing viral RNA (riboncucleic acid) fragments. This requires an amplification process to increase the amount of RNA in order to have a sample large enough to compare with the standardized viral sample originally taken from COVID-19 patients. The test sample is analysed in the laboratory to identify the virus’s genetic code (if it’s there). This process requires the sample to be repeatedly copied, increasing the tiny fragments to detectable levels. This copying process, by its nature, is susceptible to the possibility of contamination, which can lead to incorrect results. This can produce both false negatives and false positive readings.
The issues with this amplification process have been known since PCR tests were invented in the 1980’s. They were never intended to be used as a diagnostic tool. Even the founder of PCR testing, Nobel Prize Winner Dr Kary Mullis, warned against using the PCR tests in this way.
There are still questions about the purification process to isolate the COVID-19 virus, used in China in January 2020. It’s possible that there may be many segments of RNA that produce a positive result, but have nothing to do with COVID-19. The science regarding the use of PCRs as a definitive diagnostic tool is still being disputed, which makes the test highly unreliable as the basis for government policy.
The challenges of establishing global standardized test for the RT-qPCR is an ongoing struggle for the WHO and individual governments. Even the BBC has made the point that the PCR test will also detect fragments of RNA left for weeks after an infection has resolved. There is also the possibility that the test returns a positive result for other corona viruses.
A positive test can change your life
Similarly, using a RT-qPCR test to see who is actively positive to COVID-19 has profound implications. Some countries, including New Zealand, have spoken about enforcing testing and if positive, to forcefully remove them from their homes in order to isolate them from others, even their own family. Mike Ryan of the WHO described this potential scenario months ago.
It has been found that more than 50% of those who test positive will show little or no symptoms, yet there are still discussions regarding forced quarantines. In the history of medicine a positive test without symptoms has never before been classified as a ‘case’. In order to be considered a case, the patient must express symptoms of the disease. Dr Maclolm Kendrick explains the crucial importance of medical terminology in relation to COVID19.
In the absence of a better test, the rationale for using the PCR test in working environments, where contaminating vulnerable people could pose a direct threat, makes some sense. Doctors, nurses, care workers in nursing homes and other people dealing with the elderly and vulnerable would be an obvious group to test. Furthermore, these workers are going home to their own families, with the potential for cross infection, although again the tests are unreliable.
It is important to test people who are sick to ensure that along with clear clinical symptoms, it can help confirm a diagnosis. The on going controversy about the reporting of COVID19 on death certificates, might be another area where the test could be useful. Patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19 based on vague clinical symptoms, despite no test result. Patients with co-morbidities and already sick, maybe be counted as a COVID19 death if the test is positive, despite the patient having no specific symptoms related to COVID19.
There is no longer any doubt, and the UK government has admitted, that the numbers of fatalities ascribed to COVID19 have been inflated.
And given the vagaries of the test and the fact that some 80% of positive ‘cases’ will be asymptomatic, how often should people be tested: daily, weekly, monthly? There are currently very few ‘cases’ needing hospitalisation and almost no deaths, which seems to indicate that the virus is doing what viruses do: as they work through the population they lose their virulence and the population gains some herd immunity. Mass testing at this stage of the process is likely to be a waste of time and engender fear as the public looks anxiously at the number of ‘cases’ and worries about further lockdowns and infection rates.
The government and the MSM warn there may be a ‘second wave’, but there is no evidence for that at this point. The US, with ‘cases’ increasing while deaths fall, is discussing continued and regular testing into the future. Even if new ‘cases’ are being identified with increased testing, the vast majority of those testing positive will be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Protection of the elderly and vulnerable is a far better use of resources.
Do the Tests Work?
In the UK, the latest guidelines for clinicians dealing with COVID19, warn about false negatives, especially if the patient is displaying characteristic symptoms of COVID-19, suggesting that patients will be given a COVID19 diagnosis based only on symptoms, that might be difficult to differentiate from the seasonal flu.
The admittance of the unreliability of the tests by the government should raise many questions. A false positive can occur because the test is reacting to another corona virus or residues of SARS-Cov2 left behind after the person has recovered, something that was also found in China.
False positives may greatly inflate numbers, increasing general fear and anxiety, together with the specific trauma associated with the fear of being ill, of being quarantined, prevented from working and of infecting family members.
Africa was not convinced
When COVID19 reached Africa, President Magufuli of Tanzania tested the tests. He sent a number of samples, including goat, sheep, papaya and other non-human samples, to the testing lab under fictitious names. The goat and papaya samples were positive, while the sheep sample was returned as negative. Amusing perhaps, but the President took the situation very seriously and spoke about an increased lack of trust in the test’s reliability.
Increased testing with the subsequent increase in positive results can create the illusion that the disease is spreading, when it means more tests are coming back positive from more testing, some accurate and some not.
However, test results are not neutral. Some people will be stigmatized, isolated and maybe forcibly quarantined as a result. This has been happening a lot in Africa where countries are reporting a rise in the number of cases, increasing fear and maintaining severe lockdown, when the rise is the result of more testing. The number of positive ‘cases’ are not in any way reflected in the number of hospitalisations or fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA developed a different PCR assay than that selected by the WHO. The CDC test apparently only targets one basic gene of COVID19, increasing the likelihood of a false positive result from co-infection with another virus. An article in the Off-Guardian reported that the primer of the CDC test was itself found to be contaminated and testing kits in the UK also had problems. Even now in the UK, the RT-qPCR tests are having problems, with up to 1/3rd being tested false.
The CDC apparently didn’t address this issue, while the changes they recommended made the tests even less reliable, hence in scientific circles, the reliability of RT-qPCR tests for COVID-19 continues to be part of an ongoing debate.
Many tests imported from China were found to be contaminated and therefore unusable. Even the FDA has admitted that the RT-qPCR tests are not reliable and can’t be used effectively. Also, the longer the period between the time of infection and the test, it is more likely to lead to a negative result.
As new tests come to the market, allowing results to be achieved within minutes, the accuracy of these tests needs to be investigated. Given the controversy over the reliability of PCR tests as a diagnostic tool at the best of times, new tests which are designed to identify even less of the fragmented RNA, are not likely to prove any more accurate.
Given the current shift to the number of positive ‘cases’ as the driver of government policy, the issue of reliability takes on ever increasing significance.
Further problems with the Mechanics of PCR testing
The nasal swab needs to reach the upper parts of the nose, which can be difficult, especially if it is being done at drive by testing centres. The option to test at home resolves that challenge, but again if the swab doesn’t contact the mucous membrane in the correct area, there is the possibility of an unreliable result. The swab needs to be made from material that won’t contaminate the test, hence it is now made from polyester, nylon and foam.
There is a question of whether delivering and returning the swab through the mail opens it up to possible contamination.
Initially the PCR test took up to three days for the results to be known, but this has been reduced to two hours and the most recent tests from Abbot Laboratories can be done in minutes although again the accuracy of this test has been questioned.
In July there was a scandal with private testing labs in Florida, a significant number of which were found to be returning 100% positive tests, skewing the figures in terms of the percentage of tests that were positive and increasing the illusion that the virus was spreading rapidly.
It recently came to light that the UK was counting every test as a different person, so for example, while in hospital a patient might be tested every day to monitor their status, and each of those positive tests were recorded as a separate patient, inflating the apparent number of cases.
The USA got off to a slow start in the testing game, with some challenges in the process, but is now catching up. President Trump even boasted that the USA has some of the highest positive rates in the world because they are now testing so many people, which begs the question – is it good or bad to have high numbers of positive cases?
What is clear is that the RT-PCR test is fraught with difficulties and undeniably unreliable. Its inventor stated clearly that it was not designed to be a diagnostic tool. Development and manufacturing of tests is in the private sector, including companies who have never manufactured PCR tests before. Standardization of the test has been fraught with difficulty. Reporting of results has been equally unreliable.
And yet the positive / negative result of a PCR test is driving government policy, being used as the basis for decisions about lockdown, who can travel and where, whether children can go back to school or not, and in some countries providing the reason for removal to a quarantine centre.
What is most concerning is that theoretically it will be possible to use this unreliable test indefinitely to keep the population in a state of fear and anxiety and drive government policy.