No walk-in, drive-in or postal coronavirus tests are available for people with symptoms of the disease in England’s 10 outbreak hotspots, it was claimed today.
Swabs are not available in Bolton, which is fighting the largest outbreak of the virus in the country with an infection rate of 122 cases for every 100,000 people.
The Government website where testing slots are booked also shows there are no tests available in Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester, according to LBC radio.
When postcodes in each area are put into the testing system it allegedly comes up with the message: ‘This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.’
The leader of the council in Bolton, which has Britain’s highest infection rate, said there were ‘major flaws’ with the online booking system and that it was out of the council’s control because the Government runs it. He said the issue was ‘unacceptable’.
It comes as Nicola Sturgeon today accused the UK government of trying to limit the number of slots available for testing in Scottish mobile and regional test centres.
She said the Health Secretary had made the request after telling her a ‘demand issue’ had led to a reduction in test availability.
In a humiliating performance for the government the testing shortage has come just days after Downing Street committed to ‘Operation Moonshot’, an ambitious plan to one day carry out 10million tests a day to track the virus in real time.
Matt Hancock and his officials have repeatedly spoken of ‘ramping up’ testing capacity and boasted that Britain now does more swab tests than many of its neighbours.
But the system seems, inexplicably, to be cracking under the pressure of carrying out the approximately 200,000 swabs per day – before ‘Moonshot’ has even begun.
The testing chief of NHS Test & Trace last week issued a public apology on Twitter and said lab capacity was to blame for slow turnaround times and people being unable to order swabs.
It is not clear why labs are struggling to process the tests, which are the same as they have been throughout the pandemic. On September 10, 227,465 tests were processed while the Department of Health claimed it had the capacity to cope with 364,917 in a day.
Coronavirus tests are currently unavailable in the ten centres of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak, reports LBC. Pictured above is a testing centre in Bolton, northern England
Those trying to get tests in the ten UK hotspots are being greeted with this message
LBC’s Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish said that when they tried to get tests in any of the ten areas, they were not offered one.
‘The government testing website simply says the service is very busy and people should come back in a few hours,’ he said.
‘We tried to get a test in the top ten areas. In all ten they were unable to get any sort of tests in any of the ten areas.’
Coronavirus test appointments are uploaded on the Government’s testing portal throughout the day, meaning those looking to book a test are advised to check back regularly.
UK’S COVID RESPONSE IS BEING LED BY A ‘DAD’S ARMY’ WITH LITTLE OR NO EXPERIENCE, CLAIM TWO OXFORD EXPERTS
Britain’s coronavirus response is being led by a ‘Dad’s Army’ of well-paid people with no experience, two leading scientists have said as they called on Number 10 to stop panicking and scrap the controversial ‘rule of six’.
Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from Oxford University, accused Boris Johnson of making a series of ‘catastrophic’ errors since returning to work in April, following his own battle with the killer virus.
They said the country’s pandemic response has suffered because it has been led by Government officials inexperienced in controlling public health.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, they pointed out, has had the job for only two years; chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was appointed in 2019; Boris Johnson was elected last year; and the Joint Biosecurity Centre – created to fight the Covid-19 pandemic – is run by a spy.
Professor Heneghan and Professor Jefferson warned the government’s new move to limit gatherings – which came into force today – was ‘disturbing’ and had ‘no scientific evidence to back it up’. They argued that it may instead end up having ‘major consequences’.
And in urging ministers to carry on with life because containing the spread of Covid-19 is ‘unrealistic’, they warned the ‘roll of the dice’ to crack down on large gatherings may tip the public over the edge and said it should be ‘binned’.
Gatherings of more than six people have been made illegal in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, which experts have warned is on the verge of spiralling out of control. Under-12s are exempt from the rules in Wales and Scotland.
Once each test is booked the site shows there are none available in the area at present.
All the ten areas that currently do not have tests available are listed by Public Health England as the areas of England with the biggest coronavirus outbreaks.
Their latest report placed Bolton at the top of the list, followed by Bradford with 72 cases per 100,000, Oldham with 66 cases per 100,000 and Salford with 62 cases per 100,000.
Testing shortages came to the fore last week when people revealed they were either being sent dozens of miles away from home to get a test, while others were unable to get any at all.
Online booking systems were unable to process requests for tests meaning people who thought they might have the coronavirus had to go without.
In response the chief of testing at NHS Test & Trace, Sarah-Jane Marsh, issued a ‘heartfelt apology’ last week.
Ms Marsh said there was capacity at testing sites but laboratories processing the tests are at a ‘critical pinch-point’.
She added that the system is doing ‘all it can to expand quickly’.
There have been reports of people being told there are no appointments available at test centres in England and that there are no home tests kits available to send out.
Ms Marsh wrote on Twitter: ‘Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a Covid test at present.
‘All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded; it’s our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. We are doing all we can to expand quickly.
‘We have additional NHS, Lighthouse, University and Partner Labs all due to open up imminently and we are also expanding the use of non-Laboratory based tests. The testing team work on this 18 hours a day, seven days a week. We recognise the country is depending on us.’
Embarrassingly, the problems come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week committed to his Operation Moonshot and to getting mass testing up and running in the UK by next year.
He said a pilot programme will be launched in Salford next month which will see audiences at both indoor and outdoor venues tested on the day to see if they are infectious.
Those who test positive for coronavirus will be sent home while those who test negative will be allowed in.
The PM said if the pilot is successful the measures could be rolled out nationwide and that he wanted everybody in the UK to eventually have access to daily coronavirus testing, with pregnancy-style checks providing results in as little as 15 minutes.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street coronavirus press conference that negative tests would effectively provide people with a ‘passport’ which would allow them a ‘freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible’.
The Prime Minister said he hoped the mass testing approach will be ‘widespread by the spring’.
Mr Johnson told a press conference last week that up until now testing has been used primarily to identify people who have the disease so they can be isolated from the rest of society.
The PM said that will continue to be the priority with a goal of increasing testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October.
But he said that ‘in the near future we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative… so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way’.
He said new types of coronavirus tests which are ‘simple, quick and scalable will become available’ allowing for results in 90 or even 20 minutes and for tests to be administered in their millions everyday.
Mr Johnson said: ‘That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing.’
Ms Marsh said there is capacity at testing sites but laboratories processing the tests are at a ‘critical pinch-point’
Bolton has been placed under strengthened lockdown restrictions following a surge in cases, and last week became the first place in England to be forced to move pubs back to a takeaway only service.
Other measures imposed include a limit on opening hours, with venues required to close from 10pm to 5am, and a law stating people cannot socialise outside of their household.
A further 96 cases of people with coronavirus were confirmed yesterday in Bolton, bringing its cumulative total to 3,239.
A spokesman for Bolton council said they are aware the Government is planning to open three new walk-in and drive-in test centres in their area so that more appointments will be available.
Leader of the council, David Greenhalgh, said today: ‘We completely understand how frustrating it is for people who are finding it difficult to book a test.
‘This is an unacceptable situation, and myself and senior officers have escalated the issue to the highest levels.
‘In our experience, there are major flaws with the online booking system, but this is a nationally run site, which is not locally run and is out of our control.
‘We, as a local authority have done everything asked of us. Our teams have been working hard to increase testing capacity in Bolton – two new test centres have opened in the borough and a third is due to open this week; and yet we know these two new sites are currently operating below capacity, and our own residents cannot access a local test.
‘This is unacceptable and it needs to get sorted and the issues resolved, and I urge Government to treat this as a matter of the utmost priority.
‘We would ask people to try booking an appointment in a few hours. Also, please only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms or you have been asked to get tested.’
Matt Hancock last week accused people of trying to get a coronavirus test when they didn’t have symptoms of the virus, alleging they had seen a 25 per cent surge in demand for these cases.
Guidance makes clear the tests are only for those who have symptoms, or who have been asked to get a test by authorities.
Mr Hancock appealed for only those with symptoms to get a test, in response to a backlog caused by ‘lab issues’.
A sign in Bolton orders those suffering coronavirus symptoms to get a test, despite a lack of testing capacity
Ms Sturgeon has accused the UK government of trying to limit the number of tests available in Scotland while speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing.
‘We were concerned over the weekend that one of the ways the UK Government was trying to deal with the backlog was to restrict access to testing, and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening in Scotland,’ she said.
She also expressed ‘serious concern’ about the testing backlog and urged Mr Hancock to share the ‘full scale and nature of issues they are facing’ so her Government could help to try and fix the problem.
She continued: ‘There was a proposal over the weekend that the available slots at mobile testing units and regional testing centres in Scotland would be reduced and the Health Secretary managed to avoid that happening so that we retained full capacity for Scotland.
‘We have no indication at the moment that there is any significant issue in Scotland with people accessing testing slots.
‘The issue that we do appear to be suffering some impacts from – and again it’s a UK-wide issue – is a backlog in tests being processed that is then leading to a longer turnaround time.’
Scotland’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said she had ‘constructive conversations’ with Mr Hancock and her Welsh counterpart Vaughan Gething about the backlog, which she said was caused by rising demand and an ‘issue with the speed and capacity of processing the tests’.
She added: ‘I was pleased that we managed not to have the restrictions on access to testing slots that were originally being proposed, but this is work that we need to continue because we need to try as best we can to work cooperatively and to resolve this situation.’
The Government’s data shows that growth in testing capacity has largely stalled since mid-July, when around 350,000 tests were processed every day.
On September 10, the latest day for which data is available, show 374,000 tests were processed by labs across the country.
It comes as the UK records a sudden surge in coronavirus cases, with daily reported cases remaining above 2,000 for more than a week.
A further 2, 621 cases of coronavirus were recorded today in the UK amid mounting fears of a second wave.
Government statistics now show some 2,998 infections are being recorded each day, on average. For comparison, more than 3,300 cases were confirmed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Top experts insist the UK doesn’t yet need to panic over the rising numbers because they are only a fraction of the 100,000-plus that occurred each day during the darkest period of the crisis. Other scientists, however, say action is needed to prevent Britain being hit by another wave.
Another nine deaths from coronavirus were also recorded, taking the official number of coronavirus victims to 41,637.
The UK’s Department of Health has been contacted for comment.