A number of European countries have been hit by a second wave of COVID-19 infections – including, unfortunately, the UK – but Spain has been hit the hardest. Today, the Prime Minister will lay out his plans for the next stage of the UK’s response, rumoured to include a ‘three-tiered lockdown system’ that will devolve greater powers to local government, but chances are it won’t include the sorts of measures that the Spanish government are pursuing in infection-hotspots like Madrid

Madrid has become one of the first major cities in the world to attempt rapid testing on a large scale. In certain neighbourhoods with climbing infection rates, like Entrevías, residents are contacted via text to attend a drop-in clinic. Local authorities intend to test as many people as possible in these areas. When residents arrive at the clinic, an external temperature reading is taken with a non-contact infrared thermometer (like the one included in our Return2Work kit).

This is an unexpected feature of the scheme but the logic is clear. Taking the patient’s temperature will give the authorities information about their condition which might not be captured by the rapid test. For example, the patient may return a negative test but still have a temperature indicative of infection, meaning that the patient may indeed have COVID-19 but as yet remains non-contagious. This may mean that they will have to return the following day for another rapid test to track their progress, as well as receiving a more comprehensive PCR test from a local hospital to see if they have contracted a smaller amount of COVID-19. It also means that the margin for error in the test’s 93% accuracy-rate might be curbed by giving an indication as to when a patient might have received a false negative.

Once inside the drop-in clinic, a nasal swab is taken by a trained volunteer, placed in the buffer solution to settle and then squeezed onto the cassette. The resident then waits just 15 minutes for the results. Depending on the result, the resident may be free to return to work or must self-isolate – which potentially means that those they live or have had significant contact with must do so, as well. 

We will have to watch cautiously over the next few weeks to see whether this programme is able to curb the infection rates in Madrid. But by any reasonable estimate, it seems highly likely to do so. With these tests being so cheap at just €5 (or £4.50), the authorities can test huge numbers of people, detecting infectious residents as soon as possible, even if they are asymptomatic. Similarly, it also identifies safe residents, allowing local business to continue its recovery where possible, so that those who have to self-isolate are supported by a network of those who currently do not. 

It’s important to remember this, however: we have known that such a scheme was possible for months. Britain should have been the first to implement one, not Spain. 

We must be next.

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