British officials paid $20 million to a pair of Chinese companies for at-home tests kits that supposedly detected coronavirus antibodies but they didn’t work, according to the New York Times.
The paper said the companies offered to sell the tests even though the technology hadn’t been proven effective, the cash had to be paid up front and the UK would have to go to China to get them.
But the Brits cut the deal anyway, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson still recovering from a nasty bout of COVID-19 that landed him in the ICU publicly praised them.
“As simple as a pregnancy test. It has the potential to be a total game changer,” Johnson said.
But scientists and doctors at Oxford University concluded the tests were too inaccurate to use, and 500,000 remain in storage.
Another 1.5 million bought at a similar price from other sources have also gone unused, an embarrassment to British officials who are now trying to claw back some of the money.
“They might perhaps have slightly jumped the gun,” Prof. Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London, a member of the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told the paper.
“There is a huge pressure on politicians to come out and say things that are positive.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said the government ordered the smallest number of tests the sellers would allow, and that officials were working to get the cash back.