Experts have warned mass screening for Covid-19 should be paused because current tests available are not reliable enough.
And the tests threaten to wreck Christmas for around 400,000 people for no reason, reports the Mirror.
The Government’s Moonshot programme of testing everyone in towns and cities has been heralded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a way to return to some form of normality.
But four screening experts claim the most commonly used tests miss many patients who are infectious but have not yet developed symptoms.
One commonly used test might also miss between 25-50% of positive cases, giving false reassurance to people who test negative, they said.
One of the experts found that if everyone in the country was tested, 400,000 people would get a false positive and be wrongly advised to self-isolate.
Prof Allyson Pollock, public health expert at Newcastle University, said: “It’s really important to understand that none of these tests are tests of infectiousness.
“And that is one of the myths that’s being propagated, that you could have your test in the morning and if you were negative you could go about your business or go to funerals or go to the nursing homes, and you’ll be fine.”
Prof Pollock, along with colleagues from universities in Birmingham, Warwick and Bristol, warn testing the general public will use up those which should be targeted at specific groups such as care home visitors or the close contacts of confirmed cases.
She added: “We’re arguing the Moonshot program really should be paused, until the cost-effectiveness, and the value for money on any of these programs is well established.”
The Government plans to spend the equivalent of 70% of the entire NHS budget on expanding it nationwide.
Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics at Birmingham University, said: “The arguments that we’re hearing, and these have been said by the Prime Minister, that this test can tell the difference between infectious and non-infectious is not substantiated by any data.
“There is no data out there to show this.”
He added that mass testing of the whole country before Christmas would not be a good idea.
He said: “It isn’t a suitable way to make sure we have a safe Christmas and could actually do a lot of harm.
“You’ll get 400,000 people who have wrecked their family’s Christmas by doing it.”
The experts also included Prof Sian Taylor-Phillips, of Warwick University, and Dr Angela Raffle, of Bristol University.
They are calling for tests to be focused on the tracing of close contacts of confirmed cases.
They believe contact tracing to be stripped from outsourcing firms such as Serco and testing responsibility given to GPs and local councils to run.
The group published a briefing note which stated: “The proposals for society-wide screening will cost more than any other healthcare intervention contemplated and has the potential to cause harm through significant diversion of healthcare resources.”