Coronavirus: PM defends testing amid “colossal spike” in demand

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PA Media

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People queuing for testing in Southampton


Boris Johnson has defended the coronavirus testing system amid ongoing reports of people struggling to get tests and results being delayed.

The prime minister told MPs there had been a “colossal spike” in demand, but the government “was working really fast” to process requests for testing.

He also said he was “concerned” about infection rates in nursing homes.

It comes as ministers have said a list indicating who will be prioritized for testing will be released in a few days.

In addition to prioritizing testing for the NHS and then social services, schools would also be considered, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said.

Mr Johnson said 89% of those who get tested in person get them the next day.

He told the Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday: “I think most people who look at this country’s testing record across this country will see that it compares extremely well with any other European country. ”

The PM had promised that all in-person test results would be back within 24 hours by the end of June.

He acknowledged the frustration surrounding the demand for tests, but said the capacity was increased as the government wanted 500,000 tests per day by the end of October.

Mr Johnson admitted “we are concerned about infection rates in nursing homes” and promised that a new action plan for the sector would be released this week.

Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner replaced Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs as Sir Keir self-isolates due to a family member showing symptoms and awaiting the results of a test, which has since been fired as negative.

She told MPs Mr Johnson needed to “put on skates” to fix the problems.

“These health workers still don’t get the PPE they need, they still don’t get the tests they need,” she said.

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Deputy Labor leader Angela Rayner represented Chief Sir Keir Starmer


Ms Rayner also said the Prime Minister “repeatedly” made promises of testing, but “then broke those promises.”

“They have had six months to get it right and yet the Prime Minister still cannot keep his promises,” she said.

“The Secretary of Health said yesterday that it would take weeks to resolve this situation. We don’t have weeks. ”

Earlier, Mr Buckland told BBC Breakfast that testing centers would drop from around 400 to 500 in the coming weeks.

And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said each school could, starting today, order more test kits, each having received 10 at the start of the term.

What is the cause of the delay?

An increase in demand for coronavirus testing has led to local shortages, with many people reporting problems securing online reservations and being directed to testing sites hundreds of miles from their homes.

The large Lighthouse laboratories, run by the government to analyze test swabs from all British countries, have been strained to process them all.

Testing windows are limited because while there appear to be enough testing sites, there are bottlenecks in the labs for processing swabs, said Hugh Pym, BBC editor.

A new lab is expected to be up and running, but it could take a few weeks – and by then ministers say the current problems are likely to continue.

Bolton NHS Trust in Greater Manchester said more than 100 people turned out in the event of an accident and emergency on Tuesday to request a test.

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Media legendMatt Hancock: “We are working around the clock to make sure that anyone who needs a test can take a test”

Data on backlogs in labs is not publicly available, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the capacity was “less than a day.” This means that there could be up to 244,000 people.

The Health Department said about a quarter of people requesting tests did not need to do so – and only those with relevant symptoms should book.

What problems do schools face?

Some closed for a few days after reopening while others told annual classes and groups – many of which form a bubble – to self-isolate for two weeks after confirmed cases.

Teacher unions have called for the education sector to be a priority for the allocation of tests to ensure schools remain open.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said if testing capacity issues were not resolved, keeping schools open would become “unsustainable.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs on Wednesday he had stressed the importance of prioritizing schools to Baroness Harding, head of the UK testing system.

People who have trouble passing a test

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Scott Vining

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Cafe owners Scott Vining and his wife worried about delays in testing, which means they will have to shut down their family business


Scott Vining’s daughter fell ill with a temperature on Saturday. On Sunday, the rest of the family, who live near Dunstable in Bedfordshire, had also developed symptoms.

“We have tried hundreds of times,” he told the BBC of the attempt to book a test. “We started trying to book tests for my daughter on Sunday, to no avail, then we started at 8:00 am Monday morning for all of us. “

  • “How am I supposed to get my family of eight tested?”

At one point, Scott was offered a test in Warwickshire, 65 miles from his home, via the government website. But by the time he entered the details of his family of four, the spaces were gone.

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Media legendThe BBC spoke to people trying to take tests at a center in Oldham

How many tests are in progress?

About 220,000 tests are processed each day, according to government figures as of Monday.

The government said its daily lab testing capacity in the UK was over 370,000 last week – which includes antibody tests and tests used by scientists to estimate the extent of the virus.

The testing capacity (excluding antibody testing and virus spread testing) is approximately 245,000 per day.

Government data shows that testing capacity and laboratory capacity have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. The goal is to increase capacity to 500,000 per day by the end of October.

However, there is a significant difference between the number of tests that laboratories are able to process (“capacity”) and the number of tests actually processed.

Analysis from Our World In Data, a research team based at the University of Oxford, suggests that the UK is now performing more tests than many other countries.

For example, the seven-day average up to September 10 showed that the UK had performed 2.8 tests per 1,000 people. This was ahead of European countries including France (2.1) and Spain and Germany (both 1.8).

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