LONDON (AP) — British health officials said Friday that 43,000 people may have been wrongly told they don’t have the coronavirus because of problems at a private laboratory.

According to the U.K. Health Security Agency, the Immensa Health Clinic Ltd. laboratory in Wolverhampton, central England has been suspended from the processing of swabs following the false positives.

Will Welfare, the agency’s public health incident director, said it was working “to determine the laboratory technical issues” behind the inaccurate tests.

This issue emerged after people tested positive for COVID-19 in rapid testing were later confirmed negative by more thorough PCR tests.

The health agency said that “around 400,000 samples have been processed through the lab, the vast majority of which will have been negative results, but an estimated 43,000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results,” mostly in southwest England.

These incorrect results were obtained between Sept. 8-12, 2012.

The agency said it was “an isolated incident attributed to one laboratory” and people affected would be contacted and advised to get another test.

In October 2020, the British government awarded Immensa a contract for coronavirus testing worth 119 million pounds ($163million). Chief executive Andrea Riposati said the company was “fully collaborating” with U.K. health authorities.

Alexander Edwards, an associate professor of Biomedical Technology at the University of Reading, said the problems were disappointing, but cautioned: “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

“The majority of test results are correct, and it’s worth remembering that our testing system has been built up from almost nothing at the start of the pandemic,” he said.

Britain tests for coronavirus every day, and has reported nearly 40,000 new infections per day in the last week. Everyone who visits or returns to the U.K. must take a test. However, the government has announced that from Oct. 24, fully-vaccinated travellers to England can now take lateral flow tests instead of more expensive PCR tests. To verify results, people can test at home.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged that the system would be “based on trust.” “Of course, the system requires people to be honest, like so many laws in this country,” he said.


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