British government officials have been in touch with Portuguese scientists at the Algarve lab that has been using an ingenious ‘mass-screening’ Covid-19 test which works out at five times cheaper than tests currently being used in UK.
The UK Telegraph broke this story on Sunday – suggesting that officials had actually travelled to Portugal despite the country being on a UK ‘safe travel’ blacklist.
The headline was – and remains today: “Britain turns to Portugal for Covid tests that could prevent disease spread and deaths despite ban on travel to country”.
The British embassy in Lisbon however is keen to stress that the “meeting took place by video conference and there was no visit to Portugal by UK experts”.
“Therefore the suggestion by the journalist that visiting UK experts breached the quarantine requirement on their return to UK was incorrect and inappropriate”.
The story however was much more about the Portuguese test that has essentially made the country a much safer place for everyone in it.
The Telegraph’s inference that British experts were seeking to implement the Portuguese tests in UK was also “not the case”, says the British embassy – stressing that the ‘meeting’ was more of “a technical exchange”, in which the UK experts were interested to know how this approach was working in Portugal”.
The rest of the Telegraph’s story appears to stand as it did when it was written: the Algarve lab has succeeded in testing “ten times as many people for a fifth of the price, using the same laboratory equipment as now”.
“It means potential outbreaks in the population and asymptomatic carriers can be detected far earlier than at present for a fraction of the price, enabling public health officials to start shielding the vulnerable far quicker”, says the paper – adding that “research by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows that countries like Portugal that use these mass-screening techniques with high rates of negative tests have lower death rates than countries like the UK that do not”.
“This is the right way and only way to do it”, Nuno Marques of the Algarve biomedical centre told the Telegraph. “We know we are doing something that makes the country safer for everyone.”
Alluding to the criteria being used by the British government to ‘blank’ Portugal from the UK’s ‘safe travel’ guidance, Nuno Marques added: “It is safer to go to a country that is testing, identifying and isolating the cases than a country that is not, and we are doing that very quickly in Portugal.”
As the Telegraph explains, mass testing was adopted by Portugal from the start of the pandemic.
Indeed the country “is among the top ten countries in the world for testing per capita”.
Britain’s persistence therefore in maintaining an effective travel ban for British holidaymakers was described by Nuno Marques as “not a good decision”.
Nonetheless, it has been compounded this week by Scotland which issued its own travel guidance for Scottish nationals on Monday, also ‘blanking Portugal’ on the basis of infections per 100,000 people.
Bizarrely, a quick check with the online Covid-19 global tracking site Worldometers shows that infections in Spain (which has been deemed ‘safe’ to travel to by the UK) per million inhabitants are up to 6,671. Portugal registers 4,784 cases per million – and the death tally remains among the lowest in the world.