The UK has one of the lowest coronavirus testing rates in the world, with the total number making up just 0.5% of the population, new figures suggest.
A league table ranking 20 countries out of the percentage of people tested shows the UK coming in last.
Iceland was at the top of the chart, testing 11.59% of the population, while the UAE came in second testing 7.75%. The rest of the countries tested between one and two percent of the population, with only the UK and France managing less than that.
ITV’s Robert Peston tweeted the chart, saying it was compiled by former Financial Times journalist Julian Ozanne.
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How important is testing data?
Covid-19 testing is essential in order to understand how the virus is spreading.
It is also one of the most effective tools to fight the spread of the virus, as it allows infected individuals to seek treatment and self-isolate, as well as enabling the treatment and quarantining of their contacts.
How reliable are international comparisons?
Not all countries record how many people have been tested for Covid-19, and those that do record it in different ways.
Some countries, such as Iceland and Estonia, present comprehensive, detailed and regularly updated data. For many others, however, available data on testing is either incomplete or completely unavailable.
Some countries report tests performed, while others report the number of individuals tested. If a person is admitted to hospital with coronavirus, it is likely they will be tested at least twice until they are confirmed to no longer have it.
Our World in Data say current knowledge of Covid-19 testing – and more importantly of the pandemic itself – would be greatly improved if all countries were able to report all the testing data available to them in the way shown by the best examples.
You can read more about that here
The UK government has faced widespread criticism for its testing policy.
While we were only managing to test around 70,000 people a week for coronavirus at the beginning of April, Germany was averaging around 500,000 tests over the same time period.
Experts say this is one of the reasons Germany’s Covid-19 death toll is so low.
While Germany has a high number of cases (over 133,000) its death rate is one of the lowest in Europe, with 4,300 confirmed at the time of writing.
By comparison, the most recent figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that nearly 15,500 people in the UK have died because of coronavirus so far, with the number of confirmed cases in Britain having reached over 114,000.
Germany were also quick to act as the coronavirus outbreak first spread across Europe, tightening its borders and starting to impose lockdown measures back on March 15, over a week before Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown in the UK.
Amid criticism the UK government was too slow to act, ministers have been pining hopes on being one of the first countries to acquire antibody tests, aimed at detecting whether a person has already had coronavirus.
These are different to current antigen tests, which determine if a person has currently got Covid-19.
The UK is one of many nations intending to purchase the antibody kits, which are seen as a way for countries to exit lockdown by showing who might have a degree of immunity to the disease. Downing street has spent £16 million on such tests from China – but so far the technology has proven ineffective.
However, in a blow to that strategy, the World Health Organisation warned on Friday that there is currently ‘no evidence’ that people who have recovered from coronavirus are then immune to it.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Dr Maria van Kerkhove said: ‘There are a lot of countries that are suggesting using rapid diagnostic serological tests [showing antibody levels] to be able to capture what they think will be a measure of immunity. Right now, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test can show that an individual has immunity or is protected from reinfection.’
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