It has been one of the most enduring Covid conspiracy theories: that the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests used to diagnose the virus were picking up people who weren’t actually infected.
Some even suggested the swabs, which have been carried out more than 200 million times in the UK alone, may mistake common colds and flu for corona.
If either, or both, were true, it would mean many of these cases should never have been counted in the daily tally – that the ominous and all-too-familiar figure, which was used to inform decisions on lockdowns and other pandemic measures, was an over-count.
And many of those who were ‘pinged’ and forced to isolate as a contact of someone who tested positive – causing a huge strain on the economy – did so unnecessarily.
Such statements, it must be said, have been roundly dismissed by top experts. And those scientists willing to give credence such concerns have been shouted down on social media, accused of being ‘Covid-deniers’, and even sidelined by colleagues.
But could they have been right all along?
It is very hard to tell the difference between Covid and a cold without testing
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, if you got a sniffle and a headache, you might dismiss it as an ordinary cold and carry on as normal, even if you felt a little rough around the edges. But during cold and flu season, how can you be sure it’s a cold and not the coronavirus?
The common cold is caused by a different strain of virus to Covid-19. But with the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant often causing mild symptoms, such as stuffy nose, sore head and sore throat, it is very hard to tell the difference without testing.