UK Statistics Agency Slams Government's 'Incomprehensible' Official Testing Data

As Boris Johnson struggles to rebuild trust with a shellshocked public while also facing down a growing insurrection within his own party, more government bureaucrats are turning on the PM and criticizing the government's accounting of coronavirus deaths and cases, a persistent hot-button issue in the UK, which has repeatedly revised its numbers to account for deaths at nursing homes, other long-term care facilities, and private homes.

In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, UK Statistics Authority Chairman Sir David Norgrove warned that the government's daily coronavirus testing figures are "far from complete and comprehensible." This, despite the fact that the UK has the second-largest death toll in the world, exceeded only by the US.

But this time, it wasn't the number of deaths and cases that drew the criticisms, it was the government policy to include results from home-testing kits which have been found to be less-than-reliable in practice.

For whatever reason (probably a self-serving desire to make it seem like they're running as many tests as possible) HMG has insisted the most accurate way of recording the data is to count the test results on the day the tests were run without distinguishing whether the tests were home tests, lab tests, or whether individual patients required multiple tests to get a reliable result.

Norgrove said the “aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests,...[i]t is not surprising that given their inadequacy, data on testing are so widely criticized and often mistrusted," he said. The government’s daily presentations on the virus give “an artificially low impression” of the percentage of tests that are positive. Making them even less useful for the public, the data are presented in a way that's difficult to understand. Many of the key numbers make little sense without technical notes that can be difficult to understand.

The criticism has intensified as Johnson has started the process of reopening the British economy, taking the first initial steps to allow more and larger gatherings with friends and family, as he moves toward relaxing the lockdown with great trepidation.

The reasons why the UK's outbreak was so singularly deadly also still aren't well understood. Given this, we expect a steady stream of criticism for the government's methods to continue until somebody can drum up a plausible explanation.