Coronavirus: UK testing figures ‘far from complete’ and have ‘limited value’, says statistics watchdog

The government’s figures for coronavirus tests are “far from complete” and have “limited value” in showing how many people are infected with COVID-19, according to the UK’s official statistics watchdog.

In scathing criticism by the UK Statistics Authority, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of attempting to show the “largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding”.

The government has reached its targets for conducting 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day by the end of April and having the capacity for 200,000 tests of various kinds by the end of May.

But, in a letter from UK Statistics Authority chair Sir David Norgrove, Mr Hancock has been told the figures on coronavirus tests are “still far from complete and comprehensible”.

Sir David told Mr Hancock that “the way the data are analysed and presented currently gives them limited value” in helping to understand the epidemic and revealing how many people are infected, or not, and their relevant characteristics.

“The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding,” he wrote.

“It is also hard to believe the statistics work to support the testing programme itself.”

Sir David welcomed Mr Hancock’s recent correspondence with the watchdog over coronavirus data, but added: “The testing statistics still fall well short of its expectations.

“It is not surprising that given their inadequacy, data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.”

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