Only 13% of testing sites for critical workers fully vaccinated to break free from isolation are operational, Downing Street admitted.
In an effort to avert a severe blow to the economy with hundreds of thousands of people needing to be quarantined after being identified as close contact of a positive Covid case, the government has set itself a goal of ‘Establish 2,000 sites where critical workers could be tested daily instead of having to isolate themselves.
With advice to isolate if “pinched” or contacted by test and trace set to disappear after August 16, ministers announced the program as a way to avoid further disruption to services, including public transport, garbage collection. and food supply.
Number 10 said Thursday that only 265 testing sites had been created, with another 800 slated to open over the next week – but gave no specific date when the remaining 1,000 or so centers would follow suit, raising concerns concerns about whether people would still be unnecessarily forced into solitary confinement.
Statistics released on Thursday showed that a record 689,313 people in England and Wales were contacted by the NHS Covid app and asked to self-isolate in the week leading up to July 12, highlighting the disruption widespread caused by skyrocketing case rates.
Official data from the app showed an 11.4% increase in the number of people “ping” compared to the previous week.
Separate figures released by the NHS Test and Trace showed 597,260 people in England have been identified as having close contact with someone who tested positive the same week – the highest since January when England was in lock-out.
The ministers scrambled to set up testing sites at workplaces and named which groups of critical workers in certain sectors could be released from quarantine to try to minimize the impact of the ‘pingemia’.
As many sectors suffer from staff shortages, business groups and Conservative backbenchers have urged the government to bring forward the August 16 date when adults who have received two doses of the vaccine can be tested. instead of quarantining themselves. At this point, children will also be exempt from the requirement to quarantine if they are identified as close contacts.
But the Prime Minister said on Wednesday that date was now “fixed” and Downing Street said it was clear there would be no change sooner.
When the change occurs, adults and children will be asked for PCR testing. If the result is negative, they can go about their lives normally.
While contact testing centers only offer rapid-rotation lateral flow tests, the government said these would still be useful for critical workers who had not had both vaccines and were identified as close contact of a positive Covid case, allowing them to use the tests to be released from their advised isolation.
Johnson’s spokesperson rejected a suggestion from Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, who said he would have replaced the close contact isolation program with a test system at release from January of this year.
Downing Street said isolation and testing were two important steps to break the chains of transmission of the virus.
Johnson’s spokesperson also said he “sympathizes” with companies whose workers were forced to self-isolate and appreciated the impact this was having on the economy.
However, he suggested that pleas for more employees to be included on the critical worker list would not be considered.