We still don’t know if the UK does the most Covid-19 tests in Europe

2nd Jun 2020

Claim

The UK is doing more Covid-19 tests than virtually any country in Europe.

Conclusion

The UK appears to be testing fewer people than in Russia. But there isn’t enough data on this to determine for sure where the UK places, and the UK’s data isn’t particularly comparable with other countries.

“This country is now testing more than virtually any other country in Europe.”

Boris Johnson, 20 May 2020

At Prime Minister’s Questions the Prime Minister claimed that the UK does more tests for Covid-19 than “virtually any other country in Europe.”

There’s not really enough data available to say this for sure. What is available shows the UK at or near the top of the list in terms of testing, but it’s possible the UK’s testing figures count things that other countries don’t. 

According to a compilation of testing statistics put together by Our World in Data (a project from the University of Oxford and Global Change Data Lab), the UK was doing 127,153 tests on 59,312 people per day, based on a rolling three day average taken on 20 May. This ranked second out of around 30 European countries behind Russia which was doing more tests per day, but which does not submit data on how many people it tests per day.

Adjusting for population, the UK is behind Lithuania (if you look at the number of tests performed) and Denmark (when you look at the number of people tested). It’s also potentially behind Luxembourg and Belgium, though it’s unclear as to whether these countries publish data on the number of tests or the number of people tested. If it’s the number of tests, then they rank below the UK, but if it’s the number of people, they’re above the UK.   

These rankings don’t mean that much for various reasons. 

For one we can’t be sure the UK data on testing is particularly comparable with other countries. For example, the UK data includes tests that have been sent out but not necessarily processed, which may not be the case in other countries. 

Also, Our World in Data is limited by which countries actually publish their testing data day-by-day and so this ranking excludes a number of European countries including France and Germany. 

The Robert Koch Institute in Germany reports 317,979 tests in the latest week’s data. We’ve not been able to find recent data for France, but Reuters reported at the end of April that France was aiming to do 700,000 nasal swab tests a week which would mean “tripl[ing] its current capacity”.