A Government adviser today acknowledged that Britain did not pay enough attention to airborne Covid transmission during the pandemic.

Professor Andrew Curran, the chief scientific adviser for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) — which issues the Government’s official workplace guidance — told MPs Covid recommendations may have overemphasised surface cleanliness rather than the need for proper ventilation.

He spoke to the Science and Technology Committee today, saying that the guidance has changed as experts learn more about the virus.

Scientists initially feared Covid was spread via surfaces including door handles, post boxes and desks at the start of the crisis last year.

It resulted in Government-issued guidance to companies instructing them to spend thousands upon thousands of pounds cleaning products to clean the PCs and door handles, as employees return to the workplace.

Research has shown that the risk of transmitting the virus to others from touching the same surface is very low. Aerosol droplets are the main route for the virus to jump between people.

The World Health Organization (WHO), has not reported any cases of Covid spreading via surfaces. 

Professor Curran stated today that Britain should have focused more attention on preventing airborne transmission at work. 

He stated that thousands upon thousands of offices subject to HSE inspection have been disregarding Government guidance, despite the fact that more than 90% of employers are following it.

Britain did not focus enough on airborne Covid transmission at the start of the pandemic, according to Professor Andrew Curran, the chief scientific adviser for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) — which issues the Government's official workplace guidance

Britain did not focus enough on airborne Covid transmission at the start of the pandemic, according to Professor Andrew Curran, the chief scientific adviser for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) — which issues the Government’s official workplace guidance

The multi-billion-pound mass testing of the UK for asymptomatic Covid could be stopped in January, a health chief suggests 

According to a Government scientific advisor, Britain’s mass testing program for schoolchildren could be stopped in January. 

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the head of Oxford Vaccine Group, stated to MPs that it was ‘absolutely crucial’ that children are kept in school. He also said that the psychological effects of being forced home had been the greatest impact of the pandemic.

Professor Lucy Chappell was the chief scientific advisor to the Department of Health and Social Care and said that the Government was committed until January to testing.

At the Commons Science and Technology Committee, she stated that the policy was under review. The multi-billion dollar scheme was being criticized for keeping people in good health out of the workplace and classrooms.

Professor Chappell said: ‘In the short term, I think we should be continuing with testing, particularly symptomatic individuals.

“And I know other groups are evaluating at when point we reconsider testing individuals with asymptomatic symptoms beyond January, beyond the spring.”

She said, “I would like to believe that in five years we won’t all still be lateral flow-testing.”

“There is a stretchable point between these five years clearly.”

She continued, “Between January and now, it’s evident that we’ve committed ourselves to testing.

“We are now rethinking where we go beyond January, beyond the spring.”

Professor Pollard told MPs: ‘Clearly, the large amount of testing in schools is very disruptive to the system, whether that is the individual child who is then isolating because they tested positive but they’re completely well, or because of the concerns that that raises more widely in the school – we’re aware of families taking their children out because someone’s tested positive in a school.

“So I believe that widespread testing in schools has a tremendous impact.

“I think that we should probably move in the pandemic over this winter and maybe towards the winter to a totally different system of clinically driven testing.

“In other words, testing people who have not been well rather than regular testing of people who are well. This is because it drives a lot of these actions, especially in schools, if there is a lot of asymptomatic testing.”

Professor Curran stated that ‘I think we could focus more on airborne transmission at start definitely. That is something I believe we have rectified. 

“There has been an important move towards identifying ventilation needs, such as to ensure spaces are appropriately managed from an occupation perspective.

He stated that the HSE was unable to prove that Covid was ever transmitted from workplace surfaces to other surfaces, as it is ‘incredibly hard’ to detect transmission by airborne spread.

He said that virus DNA can survive on surfaces, despite the fact that the agency had swabbed workplaces.

He stated that he didn’t want too much emphasis on the potential for surface transmission but that he wouldn’t rule it out. 

‘Identifying mRNA on a surface is not evidence of transmission but we have been able to grow live virus from surfaces that have been swabbed from outside the hospital environment … using samples from homes for example, remote controls and telephones and that kind of thing.’

HSE recommends employers invest in surface disinfectants for workplace cleaning, despite lack of evidence suggesting that the virus could be transmitted from them.

Researchers believe droplets containing the SARS virus-CoV-2 virus are the main route the disease is transmitted. They are released when someone infected coughs, sneezes, or talks.

A study in the 700,000-strong city of Boston, Massachusetts, suggested the chance of catching the virus from frequently touched surfaces such as ATMs, petrol pumps and pedestrian crossings is low.

Scientists collected hundreds of supermarket door handles and bin lids during the first wave. But they only detected Covid 29 times — or eight per cent of samples.

And even when the virus was identified it was in amounts so small the researchers said the risk of infection was ‘low’ — estimated to be as little as one in 2,000.

Experts say that even though evidence suggests that contaminated surfaces are a minor factor in transmission, it is important to wash your hands regularly to keep yourself safe. They say the virus can still spread to the body through infected hands touching the nose and mouth. 

Professor Curran also stated that spot inspections by HSE of more than 330,000 workplaces across Britain revealed that thousands of them were not following the agency’s Covid guidance.

He stated that while more than 90% of respondents were following the recommendations to improve ventilation, invest on hand sanitizer and encourage face mask-wearing when in closed environments, a majority (90%)) did not.

The agency recommends that offices improve ventilation by opening all windows, doors, and vents.

It gives guidance on how offices can spot poorly ventilated areas using carbon dioxide monitors. 

It also guides employers on how to use air conditioning units to improve ventilation.

But Professor Curran said around four per cent — 13,200— of the workplaces visited by the agency since October last year were not following all the rules.

He said:  ‘To check whether things were actually being done appropriately, HSE instituted a series of spot inspections and therefore we’ve had boots on the ground, we’ve had people calling companies, following that up with visits.

“There have been about 330,000 spot inspections.” [and] the vast majority — upwards of 90 per cent — of organisation that we have been up to … are doing things that meet the guidance.

“That doesn’t mean everyone gets it right.

Top Oxford expert says don’t “bash” Britain for having a larger Covid outbreak than Europe. Europe is still behind in testing. 

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped create the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, says there were reasons the UK was seeing a high number of confirmed cases, which have been averaging more than 40,000 a day for over a week

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard is the one who created the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. He says there were many reasons why the UK was seeing such a high number confirmed cases. They have been at an average of more than 40,000 per week.

The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group told MPs that it is unfair to ‘bash’ the UK over high numbers of Covid cases, and compare it with other European countries when the UK has such high levels.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the man who created the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccination, stated that there were many reasons why the UK was experiencing a high number confirmed cases. These have been on average more than 40,000 per day for more than a week.

He said that although the UK has high cases rates, this is not due to the high amount of testing done in schools.

Sir Andrew explained to the Commons Science and Technology Committee, “If you look across Western Europe and see that we have approximately 10 times more tests per day than other countries, this is per capita.

‘So we really have to always adjust by looking at the data… we do have a lot of transmission at the moment, but it’s not right to say that those rates are really telling us something that we can compare internationally.’

He suggested that the UK Government look at what is best for British people, and not compare internationally.

Professor said that a lot of our policy decisions should be based on what is best for this country and not on other countries having less cases. It’s difficult to make such assessments.

“If you adjust cases in relation to the testing rates and look at test positivity, Germany currently has the highest test positivity ratio in Europe.

“So I think it’s important to not bash the UK with a very low case rate when we look at these data. This is partly due to very strict testing.

‘I don’t mean to deny that there isn’t a lot of transmission, because there certainly is, but it’s those comparisons that are problematic.