The firm at the centre of a testing blunder that allowed tens of thousands of Covid-infected patients to roam the streets is still processing private travel PCR swabs, it was revealed today.
Up to 43,000 people, mostly in the South West of England, were wrongly told they were negative for the virus due to ‘technical issues’ at a private lab in Wolverhampton, run by Immensa.
The error has been linked to the recent explosion in Covid cases in the region, where a record one in 45 residents are now estimated to have the virus. Operations at the facility — where workers were filmed playing football and wrestling on shift — were suspended after the error was finally spotted on October 15.
But it has now emerged Immensa is continuing to process and profit from PCR results for international travellers who buy tests for up to £68 through its sister company Dante Labs.
Professor Kit Yates, a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, described the situation as ‘an absolute scandal’, adding: ‘How can anyone have any confidence in them?’
Immensa — which was awarded nearly £170million by the Government to analyse PCR samples last spring — has insisted that all swabs, including for travel, are being redirected from the Wolves lab. The company also runs a facility in Cambridge.
It also emerged that one of Immensa’s senior staff members has been hired by the UK Health Security Agency, which replaced the now-defunct Public Health England at the start of the month.
The UKHSA claimed the worker had ‘no involvement whatsoever in any PCR testing commercial matters’ and that a conflict of interest form was filled out and assessed before the appointment was made.
Up to 43,000 people, mostly in the South West of England, were wrongly told they were negative for the virus this month due to ‘technical issues’ at a private lab in Wolverhampton, run by Immensa. The error has been linked to the recent explosion in Covid infections in the region, where a record one in 45 residents are now estimated to have the virus (the worst areas are shown in dark purple)
Immensa Health Clinic, in Wolverhampton, has been suspended following an investigation revealing it may have incorrectly processed PCR tests. The lab (pictured) has been paid £120million by the taxpayer for its services
Employees at Immensa Health Clinic in Wolverhampton were filmed fighting with each other (pictured) in January. This was at the height of the first wave and when the country was in strict lockdown
They were also recorded playing football together at the testing centre while on duty
Asked whether Immensa was processing PCR travel test results, a company spokesperson told The Guardian: ‘All PCR testing, including private testing for travel, has been suspended at the Wolverhampton lab.
‘All samples received in Wolverhampton are being rerouted to other labs. We have been cooperating fully with the UKHSA on this matter and will continue to do so.’
Government’s OWN assessment warns that ‘Plan B’ vaccine passports might backfire and FUEL Covid surge
Introducing vaccine passports could cause a spike in coronavirus cases because people may ditch large venues and gather in small pubs with poor ventilation instead, the Government’s own impact assessment has warned.
Boris Johnson’s coronavirus ‘Plan B’ would see people having to prove they are double-jabbed to gain access to certain hospitality, entertainment and sporting settings.
But a document examining the economic and social impact of the policy suggested that it could backfire.
The document, written by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), expressed concerns that people could stay away from large venues and meet elsewhere to avoid having to show documentation.
The impact assessment, seen by The Telegraph, warned rolling out the policy in England would require firms to hire thousands of new stewards to check vaccine status.
It concluded this could be difficult to deliver, while the checks themselves could result in ‘bottlenecks’ at large venues and stadiums.
The document reportedly warned the policy could cost firms £2billion in lost turnover if it was in place over a six month period.
Vaccine passports have already been rolled out in Scotland, with hospitality chiefs labelling their introduction an ‘unmitigated disaster’.
Officials also confirmed an employee from Immensa and Dante labs was ‘supporting NHS Test and Trace [part of the UKHSA] in a technical role’.
But a UKHSA spokesperson told the newspaper: ‘The secondee completed a conflict of interest form when appointed and they were judged suitable for the role.’
According to data from the Government’s Covid dashboard, the South West is now recording the highest infection rate in England for the first time in weeks. Nine of the 10 worst-hit areas in England are now in the region.
The South West of England, as a whole, is recording 760 cases per 100,000 compared to the 488 England-wide average. But several southwestern authorities are reporting far more than that.
Cheltenham’s rate is 1,344, the highest in the country, followed by Stroud (1,231), Tewkesbury (1,226), Swindon (1,128) and Mendip (1,069).
Bath and North East Somerset (1,061), North Somerset (995), Somerset West and Taunton (955.5) and South Gloucestershire (952) round out the nine hardest-hit places in the region.
Downing Street has denied that the testing blunder is behind the sharp rise and suggested that the South West was simply catching up with the rest of the country.
But experts think otherwise. Professor Yates said that it’s ‘extremely likely’ much of the rise is the direct result of people not isolating and the virus spreading unchecked.
Professor Paul Hunter estimated that up to 8,000 people will have caught the disease from a person given the wrong result, based on rough estimates about the number of people who isolate when they’re unwell, regardless of PCR result.
Cambridge University epidemiologist Dr Raghib Ali told MailOnline that the South West was particularly vulnerable to a blunder because of lower levels of natural immunity in the region.
Patients affected by the Immensa lab error were given the false negatives between September 2 and October 12, allowing the virus to continue spreading unrestricted within the region.
It is still unclear what caused the testing error at the laboratory.
The UKHSA said the problems at the lab was an ‘isolated incident’ and the number of tests processed by the lab is ‘small in the context of the wider network and testing availability is unaffected around the country’.