A claim by Health Minister Robin Swann that testing is not the key element of the efforts to combat the coronavirus has been contradicted by one of the most eminent epidemiologists in these islands.

Yesterday, Minister Swann said in a statement, "Testing is not and should never be regarded as a silver bullet. It does not trap the virus or halt its spread. But it is a vital part of our weaponry and will continue to be so."

In response, Dr Gabriel Scally, a native of West Belfast and President of Epidemiology and Public Health Section at the Royal Society of Medicine as well as a former Regional Director of Public Health in England, reiterated his contention that the Minister was wrong.

And he dismissed the Minister's introduction of surveillance testing as falling far below what was needed to fulfil the 'test, trace, isolate' approach recommended by the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

"Northern Ireland Health Department will be doing random testing for surveillance," said Dr Scally in a Tweet. "If they did finding/testing/tracing properly they wouldn't need surveillance, plus they'd halt spread."

In an interview with the Eamonn Mallie podcast, the former Public Health Director at the Eastern Health Trust here, doubled down on his criticism of the British Government approach to the Covid-19 Crisis - an approach adopted by the Health Department here. "The approach has been disastrous," he said. "It doesn't represent good public health practice...The refusal to look at countries that have really handled coronavirus very well, have reduced it to zero and had very few deaths; the refusal to look at the experience of those countries - places like South Korea, Taiwan or some of the other Asian countries - and then the point-blank refusal to listen to the advice of the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, really the experts in tackling outbreaks of infectious disease. They have gone their own way and it has been disastrous. It looks like they are going to be one of the worst countries in Europe, if not the worst in Europe, for of deaths per head of population."

And the Minister was also contradicted by Belfast clinical epidemiologist Dr Michael Donnelly who rejected the silver bullet analogy. "Testing is the gold standard," he said. "The WHO epidemiologists controlled polio, eradicated smallpox and controlled Ebola Fever. Testing centres should be on large housing estates not in drive-through centres. It is the scientific way forward."