Downing Street is reportedly planning to crack down on “frivolous” coronavirus tests as England’s ten worst Covid hotspots face a total dearth of testing supplies.
An investigation by LBC Radio found that walk-in, drive through and home tests were all unavailable in the areas with the highest infection rates: Bolton, Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester.
According to The Times, ministers are drawing up plans to restrict “frivolous demands” for the checks from members of the public, after “accepting that they did not anticipate so many people applying for them”. Around 200,000 tests are currently being carried out each day, “but demand is much higher”, with “requests from care homes and children returning to school being blamed for shortages around the country”, says the newspaper.
The overwhelming demand has left laboratories struggling to process samples, forcing testing centres to cut back on appointments and leaving hundreds of people who have Covid symptoms “waiting more than five days for a result”, The Times adds.
Amid growing criticism of the government’s testing strategy, Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted this morning that “tests are available, you’ve heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I’ve seen this myself, I’ve seen the teams that have been working on this”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, she added: “I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.”
However, Patel conceded that “there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas”.
Critics agree with her on that point, at least.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it “beggars belief ministers didn’t use summer to build up testing capacity in time for children back at school and many returning to the workplace”.
In a tweet on Monday, Ashworth described the situation as “a world beating shambles” – a reference to Boris Johnson’s pledge in May to implement a “world-beating” track and trace system to beat the virus.
Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi said the tests shortages were “completely unacceptable”, while Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell warned that the problem “not only risks lives” but also “significantly undermines trust and confidence in the measures the government are asking of us all”.