At first glance it might make sense for European countries to impose quarantine on British visitors, given our rising number of infections compared to their own.
Germany already insists that Britons self-isolate, and now Angela Merkel has called for the EU to follow suit.
Yet look a little closer, and it becomes clear that our testing regimes are not comparable.
Britain is currently testing 10 times as many people as Germany at a rate of 14.52 per 1,000 people compared to 1.4 per 1,000.
Likewise, France is only carrying out 3.84 tests per 1,000, while it is 1.98 in Spain, 2.3 in Switzerland, 2.21 in Sweden and 3.11 in Italy.
Daily Covid-19 tests vs daily confirmed cases in Europe
Although it is clear that cases are indeed rising in Britain, it is inevitable that mass testing – and particularly surge testing in hotspot areas – will pick up far more cases, skewing our position in the European league tables.
While mass testing is vital to get a handle on outbreaks, allowing test and trace measures to help suppress the virus, it also means the UK faces being punished abroad for doing the right thing.
Britain is averaging about a million tests a day at present. Out of that we are finding about 10,000 cases a day – once the false positives have been removed and cases averaged over seven days. In contrast, Germany recorded just 1,136 cases on June 23, but tested 10 times fewer people.
We might expect that the proportion of people testing positive would not change on a given day if more or fewer tests were carried out. This supposes that if we cut our own testing down to Germany’s levels we would be seeing around 1,000 cases a day.
Likewise, France recorded 2,320 cases on Tuesday but is carrying out nearly four times fewer tests. If we
assume the case rate would stay the same with more testing, increasing it would bring the country not far away from British figures.
In Spain, some 4,341 cases were detected on the same day, but it could be argued the country would be picking up 30,000 cases a day if operating on British testing levels.
Look at the positivity rates of European countries and this becomes more apparent. According to the website Our World In Data, Britain is hovering around one per cent positivity, a touch better than France, Switzerland, Norway and Belgium which are all little over one.
In contrast, Germany and Portugal are closer to two per cent, while Sweden is around three per cent and the Netherlands roughly seven per cent.
Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, which has been monitoring infections through a ZOE symptom tracker app since the start of the pandemic, said symptomatic Covid did appear to be worse in Britain compared to Europe, but said surge testing may be picking more asymptomatic cases at home.
“Some of the surge testing may be contributing to extra asymptomatic cases in the UK,” he said.
The same issue applies to cases of the delta variant. One of the reasons that Britain has had such a noticeable problem with variants compared to elsewhere is that we are actively looking for them.
The four ‘pillars’ of the UK testing regime?
We have the best variant surveillance in the world, but it also makes it appear that we have a far worse problem.
Worrying variants are likely to be cropping up elsewhere in large numbers, we just are not noticing.
The differences in how countries manage their epidemics and report data has made it virtually impossible to compare throughout the pandemic.
For example, Britain has one of the worst death rates yet the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has consistently included people who died “with” the virus rather than from it, despite being warned not to by the World Health Organisation.
It will be many years before this is resolved, and we finally get a true picture of which countries did best in the pandemic, based not only on comparable data but also demographics, population density, interconnectedness and climate.
For now, Britain is being unfairly treated as a pariah because of its desire to get on top of the virus.