Peston’s Testing Shortage Disinformation

On Tuesday evening, ITV Political Editor Robert Peston made extraordinary and widely shared claims that “there is no shortage of the relevant reagents” – implying that the Government was either lying or simply hadn’t bothered to ask around. His tweet has attracted over 14,000 retweets and 20,000 likes.

His single anonymous Chemical Industries Association source could be right. On the other hand, Guido has pulled together some other people who might just know what they are talking about:

  • Professional Association of Laboratory Medics, Germany: “The association is worried that the materials required for testing — sample kits, materials for extracting samples, and reagents — are becoming scarce”
  • Department of Health, Australia: “Due to global demand exceeding supply, stocks of all laboratory related testing consumables are under considerable strain. At the moment there are particular concerns around supplies of swabs and DNA extraction kits.”
  • Centre for Disease Control, United States: Important reagents are “now are in short supply,”
  • Leo Varadkar, Ireland: “The current cause of delay is a shortage of reagents. We hope to address that but then there may be a shortage of something else. We have to be honest about that – we will hit delays.”
  • Chief Public Health Officer, Province of Manitoba, Canada: “Right now the major roadblock is the reagent and that is worldwide.”
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention, South Korea: Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said … it was true that Roche Diagnostics’ supply of reagents for nucleic acid extraction was not stable.”
  • Health Ministry, Israel: Deputy Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto said that “Unfortunately what we just received is not exactly what we needed. The test is comprised of many components and the main problem is that we are missing swabs.”
  • National Public Health Surveillance Laboratory, Lithuania: “The reagent kits have been shipped out but have not yet arrived. Supply chains are breaking down. We are following the situation and trying to coordinate.”
  • Metropolis Health Ltd, (registered lab offering tests) India: “Since resources are limited, including protection equipment for sample collectors and reagents, we have decided to prioritise testing to those who are most at need.”
  • Virology Laboratory at Italy’s National Institute for Infectious DiseasesEuropean Commission Coronavirus Advisory Group: “major companies that provide the reagents that labs need to analyze tests are reaching “the maximum of their capacity,” said Capobianchi, noting there’s also a need for more swabs for collecting samples. “I don’t know how long they would require to scale up their capacity,” she said of reagent producers.”

Whilst he later acknowledged that there was a global problem, Peston has still not deleted the original thread. Inevitably his later correction only got a tiny bit of attention, with fraction of the interaction.

Guido understands that the predominant reason Germany has a much higher testing rate is fortunately for them the specific diagnostics facilities needed to test for Covid-19 have a large number of branches in Germany, meaning domestic production just happened to be enormous to begin with. The UK will at least be very well served if any future pandemic requires a large supply of snide punditry…

Last night Peston had to be corrected again by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam on his understanding of which tests can do what, this morning Peston tweets that he “was slightly taken aback at the ferocity of the Deputy Chief Medical Officer’s response”. Painful viewing, see for yourself…

Isn’t it about time big news outlets had their health, rather than political teams leading on Coronavirus coverage?..

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