Various Eateries director Hugh Osmond has criticised the government’s mass testing strategy as a “giant propaganda exercise,” arguing that ministers initially failed to utilise the approach where it could have had the biggest impact.

Following a mass testing trial programme in Liverpool, which offered all residents and workers 15-minute tests and found 0.7% tested positive to the virus, health secretary Matt Hancock revealed earlier this week that the government intends to pursue a roll-out of the initiative to 66 other areas by the weekend.

With the likes of Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester due to receive 10,000 lateral flow tests later this week, Hancock said they will comprise a “vital tool” to help get life back to normal, but Osmond disagrees.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, he said that whilst he can see that a test and track approach might be useful for a small local outbreak, he is “completely mystified” as to what mass testing for hundreds of thousands of people will achieve.

“I have no idea what mass testing of a population for an endemic disease could possibly do,” he said. “If you mass tested people for coughs, colds or flu, and you found out that a certain percentage of the population had it, what would you do about it?

“It’ll tell you roughly how many people have the virus in Liverpool, but so what?”

For Osmond, the real value for rapid testing was lost on the government when they initially dismissed their usage earlier this year.

Based on Public Health England’s findings that when compared to the 24-hour polymerase chain reaction tests the faster tests were only 90% effective, government decided to opt primarily for the former.

“But you can show both mathematically and commonsensically, that having a test that is 90% accurate where you can get the results in five minutes or ten minutes, can be used totally differently from a test that takes 24 hours,” Osmond explained.

Rather than testing the wider population, as the government is doing, he suggested that rapid tests should have been used to focus on the most vulnerable, to “test every single person going into a care home or a hospital.

“That would make a massive difference,” he said. “If you want to prevent deaths, you start with the places that people are likely to die. But politicians can’t quite absorb that.

“They dismissed the rapid test and started with the PCR tests,” he continued. “They let the thing rampage through care homes and hospitals, and they closed pubs, restaurants and hospitality instead of being able to fix the core issue which is where they focus the testing.”

Attempting to shed some light on the government’s strategy, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said that it is intended to see how effective rapid testing is in being able to identify those without the disease, rather than the infected.

“It’s with a view to then look at reducing quarantine times, reducing self-isolation times, and therefore help to reopen mass events, conferences and to return to more normal travel,” she said.

“But, I’m not sure how it’s working in a population where the diseases is coming under control.”