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?
“There are some scientists who have absolutely loved being media stars for the first time and they don’t want to stop. We don’t hear as much from the paediatricians, disease physicians, academic virologists and the immunologists who really know about these things.” (says Professor Allyson Pollock.)
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said many prominent Covid voices have never written papers on infectious diseases. “It’s like me deciding, ‘I did a course on health and economics a year ago: maybe I should set up a group advising the chancellor on how to manage the tax system.’”