“Testing is not a cure, it won’t cut the number of deaths, it won’t make people feel better or stop them catching coronavirus”

That was the claim from junior health minister Nadine Dorries last night.

The MP for Mid-Bedfordshire made headlines last month as she became the first senior British politician to test positive for the coronavirus. She has since recovered.

Her comments last night came amid an ongoing saga over the rate of coronavirus testing in the UK – which many say is too low.

But her claim that testing for coronavirus “won’t cut the number of deaths” or “stop them catching coronavirus” directly contradicts statements made by the head of the World Health Organisation – and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty.

The claim

Ms Dorries published a string of tweets defending the government against what she describes as “media hype”.

She wrote: “Journalists and media need to be more balanced. Testing, is not a cure, it won’t cut the number of deaths, it won’t make people feel better or stop them catching #coronavirus it will only tell you if you have or have had it .There is no cure.

“Tests will allow us to know who has antibodies and is immune/non contagious, but we don’t yet know how long those anti bodies will last for. The best we can hope for is that it will allow #NHS workers to get back to work if they know they have had it and have antibodies to protect them.

“I’m already hearing from constituents who are alarmed at the situation re tests, believing media hype and that testing with a positive diagnosis = a miracle cure. There is as yet, no treatment, no cure, no vaccine and no amount of tests will alter that fact..#InThisTogether”

The analysis

It’s true that taking a coronavirus test will not itself cure or treat someone suffering from Covid-19 symptoms.

But Ms Dorries’ claim that testing “won’t cut the number of deaths … or stop them catching coronavirus” is wrong, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a statement to world leaders on 16 March, WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “explains why coronavirus testing saves lives”.

The director-general said: “the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that you must test and isolate.”

He added: “We have a simple message for all countries Test, test, test. Test every suspected case”.

Asked about Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ comments, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said: “Of course we completely agree with the secretary general that testing is absolutely critical”.

The response

FactCheck approached Ms Dorries about the contradiction between her comments and those of the WHO chief. She told us:

“What would cut deaths right now, today, is hand washing and self-isolating, people staying at home as confirmed by Jonathan Van Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England on Peston last night.

“My tweets refer to where we are in the immediate future with access to the tests we have and public perception.

“Of course, once the supply chain is flowing and we have access to mass testing, we can ensure those who have antibodies can move back into the workplace and those who don’t, can isolate, reducing risk.”