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UK remotely works with Algarve Covid-19 test researchers to discuss disease spread, despite travel warning

84travel warningUK health authorities handling the ongoing pandemic have looked to Portugal to talk about mass screening Covid-19 testing that has aided in preventing the spread of the disease in Portugal, and helped reduce death rates, despite the UK still not endorsing travel to the country by leaving it off of its recent air bridge list.

British officials remotely coordinated with Portuguese scientists working at the Algarve Biomedical Centre (ABC), based near the University of the Algarve, which has developed a method of testing ten times as many people for a fifth of the price using the same laboratory equipment currently being used in the UK, according to an article by The Telegraph. The UK Telegraph broke this story on Sunday, with the assumption that officials had actually physically travelled to Portugal despite the country not being on the UK ‘safe travel’ list. Despite it first being thought that the UK officials met with the Portuguese team in person, the British Embassy has provided further clarification, stating that the meeting, in fact, took place by video-conference, and there was no visit to Portugal by UK experts.  Therefore, this article’s previous suggestion that visiting UK experts breached any sort of quarantine requirement on their return to the UK was incorrect.

In the British Embassy’s own words, “the virtual meeting that took place was a technical exchange between experts about the use of sample pooling and its operational implementation in Portugal.  The UK experts were interested to know how this approach was working in Portugal.  It is not the case that they are looking to implement this approach in the UK”.  Our previous headline suggesting that the UK was seeking “help” with testing, was therefore misleading.

This online discussion between the UK and Portugal serves as a brick in the wall of a long tradition of constructive collaboration on scientific research between the two countries. This tradition’s importance is highlighted in the current circumstances, as it is vital for research partners to work together in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The research carried out by the ABC team allows for future viral outbreaks in the population and asymptomatic carriers to be detected far earlier than at present for a fraction of the price, as testing can be carried out at a faster pace and on a larger scale, thus enabling public health officials to start shielding the vulnerable far quicker.  

It is hoped that the main conclusion of video-conference is that the UK officials were able to discuss how the Portuguese method has contributed in creating a safe environment for Portuguese citizens, mainly through maintaining a high rate of testing per 100,000 people.

Research by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) shows that countries such as Portugal, that use these mass-screening techniques with many tests coming out as negative have lower death rates than countries like the UK that do not, explained the Telegraph in its report.

“This is the right way and only way to do it”, defended Nuno Marques of the ABC to the Telegraph. “We know we are doing something that makes the country safer for everyone.”

Marques explains: “It is safer to go to a country that is testing, identifying and isolating the cases than a country that is not.” Britain’s persistence therefore in maintaining its effective travel ban is “not a good decision”, in the scientist’s own words.

This article previously contained incorrect or misleading information, kindly clarified and debunked by the British Embassy.