United Kingdom

Swabs to be rationed as testing chaos shows just 3 UK hotspots can take bookings

The Government plans to ration coronavirus swab tests after it emerged only three of the country’s top 49 infection hotspots can take bookings, it has been claimed.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed a ‘priority list’ has been drawn up to ensure care homes, hospitals, schools and key staff have sufficient access. 

During Tuesday’s Commons session, he admitted shortages could be an issue for weeks, despite Downing Street previously telling all people to seek tests “if in doubt”.

Forty-six of the 49 worst-hit areas have no swabs at all, according to checks done by the Daily Mail.

Heath Secretary Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday

Meanwhile, Mr Hancock is said to be weighing up giving GPs the power to green light whether a patient should get tested, reports ITV.

Tuesday’s figures show 227,075 tests were carried out across the UK in the previous 24 hours – but that was down from 231,969 on Monday and from 250,839 on Sunday.

It comes as hundreds of worried parents were left queuing outside testing centre yesterday after trying and failing to book an appointment online.

Swabs to be rationed as testing chaos shows just 3 UK hotspots can take bookings
An empty Covid-19 testing site in the centre of Bolton

Testing staff in other places, like Bolton – with the sixth highest infection rate in the UK – stood idle, with one claiming kits were available but the booking system appeared to be down.

At a site in Oldham, staff had reportedly said they couldn’t test people because they were “unable to turn the test around”.

In Cambridge there were reports of test centres at under-capacity while locals claim they are being sent for drive-in tests in places like Leicester – which has highest infection rate in the UK – and even Aberdeen for drive-in tests.

Swabs to be rationed as testing chaos shows just 3 UK hotspots can take bookings
A woman uses an umbrella to shelter from the sun as she waits for a Coronavirus test in Bury

Many people trying to book tests online are directed to a page which tells them they are too busy and try later.

Concerns are growing about the Government’s seven lighthouse labs which are reportedly struggling to turn around results due to staff and equipment shortages.

A memo leaked to The Guardian claims the labs were stretched to capacity as early as last month.

The Government’s ambitious ‘Operation Moonshot’ – which would see four million tests available by February – saw Mr Hancock laughed at in the Commons earlier this month.

Daily cases are rising – in part due to children returning to school and a roll-out of regular swabs at care homes – leading to fears Britain is already experiencing a second wave.

Mr Hancock’s priority list will be released within days, giving testing centres guidelines on who should receive swabs.

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