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The UK has “a lot to learn” from the large-scale testing for coronavirus that has taken place in Germany, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has said in the first public acknowledgement of problems with the British response to the outbreak.
Germany has tested close to a million people for Covid-19, and has been hailed for enthusiastically adopting the World Health Organistation’s “test, test, test” mantra. By contrast, the UK has tested just over 210,000 people.
At the daily Downing Street press conference, Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, were asked what could be learned from Germany, where the rate of growth in the number of deaths has been much slower than in Britain.
Whitty said: “We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there’s a lot to learn from that and we’ve been trying to learn the lessons from that.”
Vallance said he “didn’t have a clear answer” but said “there are things to do with demographics, there are things to do with the way systems are organised and of course there may be differences in the way certain responses have been taken”.
Germany has reported more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 1,800 deaths, while the UK has recorded just over 55,000 cases and more than 6,100 deaths of hospital patients diagnosed with the illness.
At the press conference, a graph was presented showing how Germany appeared to be “flattening the curve” sooner than the UK.
The UK government has said it wants to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month.
Top epidemiologist professor Neil Ferguson, who is among the experts sitting on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has previously warned that production of swab tests would have to be ramped up to the “tens of thousands” — perhaps 50,000 a day — for a system of mass community testing to work in the UK.
“We want to move to a situation by at least the end of May where we can substitute some less intensive measures – more based on technology and testing – than the current lockdown,” he told the BBC on Saturday.
Jeremy Hunt, former health secretary, has also called for increased testing.
“Pull infections down, then introduce mass community testing – that’s the way we can end the lockdown,” said the MP, who is now chair of the Commons’ health select committee.