Coronavirus tests available in just 'two of England's top FIFTY Covid hotspots'
15th September 2020

CORONAVIRUS tests were today available in just two of England's top FIFTY Covid hotspots, it is reported.

An investigation by LBC radio found Covid checks were only available in Liverpool and the Wirral – of all the areas on Public Health England's watchlist.

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Yesterday, LBC found no tests were available in England's top ten virus hotspots.

And today, Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish said he couldn't get one test in 48 of the country's 50 bug-ridden areas.

He wrote on Twitter: "We’ve expanded our testing investigation by trying to get a test in all 48 hotspots currently on the Public Health England watchlist.

"We were offered a test in just two out of the 48 areas (Liverpool and the Wirral).

"All the rest said there were no tests currently available."

The Government's online testing portal returned an error message saying there were no home test kits, drive-through or walk-in sites available.

The website reportedly said: "This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later.

"If you cannot book a test now, or the location or time are not convenient, try again in a few hours. Do not call the helplines – you will not be able to get a test this way."

According to the latest available Public Health England data, the Wirral has 43.6 cases per 100,000 people, while Liverpool has 31.1.

It means both areas exceed the threshold at which the Government considers international quarantine measures (20 cases per 100,000).

Swabs were not available in Bolton, Greater Manchester, which is fighting the largest outbreak of coronavirus in England with 122 cases for every 100,000 people.

Salford, Bradford, Blackburn and Darwen, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside and Manchester were also off limits, according to LBC.

Responding to the claims, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace is working, we are processing over a million tests a week but we are seeing a significant demand for tests, including from people who do not have symptoms and are not otherwise eligible.

“We are targeting testing capacity at the areas that need it most, with new booking slots and home testing kits made available daily for people with symptoms. We are also increasing testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.”

RESULTS DELAYED

It comes as it was revealed today that up to 230,000 people are waiting for their test results – and the Health Secretary admitted the shambles could last for weeks.

Matt Hancock warned the nation he would have to set out new rules for rationing tests and prioritising people in the NHS to try and fight the chaos and shortages – as some sites reportedly ran out yesterday.

He was hauled into the Commons this morning to face fire from all sides over dire shortages in the vital kit.

It came as the UK reported another 3,105 new cases of the virus in the UK today – with 27 more deaths.

The Health Sec admitted there had been "operational" challenges to the testing system, blaming people who are not eligible to get swabbed for delays, and the increased demand as cases rise.

And he said that there was a hold up of "less than a day's capacity" of people waiting for results – currently at 227,000 for the swab tests.

The Sunday Times claimed last weekend that Britain has a backlog of around 185,000 – but it was so stretched it is sending tests to labs in Germany and Italy.

Mr Hancock said today it was "inevitable" that demand rises when a "free service" is available.

Kids returning to school are being blamed for shortages across the country.

And he said the chaos could continue for weeks, saying: "We will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks.

"We are managing to deliver record capacity… demand is also high, and the response to that is to make sure we have prioritisation so the people who most need it can get the tests they need it."

A Whitehall source told The Sun said they “can’t rule out” changing the eligibility criteria for who can get a test in the future.

In a worrying sign, Covid hospitalisations and infection rates in care homes have started to creep up again, Mr Hancock told MPs.

In a torrid hour-long session, the Health Secretary was hammered from all sides about the shortages.

He faced furious MPs, who have been flooded with complaints from constituents about not being able to get a test.

He was told the system is a "bloody mess" and an "utter farce" as MPs, NHS staff and schoolteachers got caught in the chaos.


Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said over 65,000 Brits are having to wait more than a week for their Covid results.

Care home residents now wait an average of 83 hours for their result, he added.

He stormed: “The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole but instead his mallet is broken.

“The Secretary of State is losing control of this virus. He needs to fix testing now.”

Tory former minister Tim Loughton warned that he is being flooded with reports from worried parents whose “young children turned away from nurseries and primary schools if they’re displaying any cold symptoms”.

Tory MP Jason McCartney told ministers they should have sorted out the current testing shambles before they promised Brits millions of tests in Operation Moonshot.

He raged: “Please, please, please, before we talk about the moon can we focus on local community testing?”

But Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg batted off the flood of criticism, hailing the testing system “a government success”.

GAME THE SYSTEM

Lib Dem MP Minura Wilson said some of her Twickenham constituents had only managed to get a test in their local area by gaming the system – entering an Aberdeen postcode into the online system.

Hundreds of people have complained of not being able to get a test in their local area, with some people being sent as far as 300 miles away to get a swab to see if they have the bug.

People who aren't able to get one are having to isolate at home for weeks to make sure they aren't spreading the bug.

It was revealed by LBC yesterday that there were no tests available in any of the top ten places in the UK with the highest number of fresh coronavirus infections.

Some testing centres have been completely deserted while others have been flooded with people.

In Southend there were queues from 8am this morning as hundreds tried to get a test despite not having an appointment.

The facility reportedly had run out of tests yesterday by 10am and people were turned away.

Labs are struggling to process all the samples and are forcing test centres to have to cut back on appointments.

People have been unable to get tests in Cambridge and have been forced to drive as far as Heathrow or Birmingham for a test, while a centre in Cambridge was almost empty.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner says he has received a "flood of complaints" from residents who have been unable to get an appointment to be Covid tested at the Milton site.

He told ITV that some of his constituents are having to wait eight hours to get a test, while others have been "cut off on multiple occasions while waiting on the 119 phone line."

But Labour MP for Harrow West Gareth Thomas told Mr Hancock his constituents were unable to get a test in Harrow or in nearby Heathrow.

He demanded to know why the testing centre at Heathrow is "so unused" at the moment.

One person claimed testing centre staff were telling them how to game the system and get a hold of an appointment.

They tweeted: "Mother was advised at an empty #Twickenham test centre to input a#Scottish postcode & then they used the barcode to give her a test – it is a ridiculous system, Thanks for raising it"

RATIONING TESTS

The Health Secretary said they would have to look at rationing tests after the "sharp rise" in demand.

And he warned that there is "evidence the number of cases in care home and hospitalisation have started to rise again".

Testing centres are prioritising health care workers and those with acute medical conditions – much like what happened at the start of the pandemic where there weren't enough tests to go around.

 

The latest Government figures showed that just 200,000 tests were carried out, despite the capacity to do more than 300,000.

Lab capacity was blamed for the blockages in some areas.

Mr Hancock said today: "Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need.

"Over the summer, when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not.

"But as demand has risen, so we are having to prioritise once again and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important."

He said an updated list of prioritisation setting out who would be at the front of the queue for tests would be published shortly.

This morning Priti Patel defended the tests and said capacity was growing every day.

She said: "Our capacity is at the highest level it has been since coronavirus."

"I think we have to recognise this is challenging. There is no magic solution to say that it is all going to be perfect."

 

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said this lunchtime: "We are working hard to increase capacity. We have recently announced a new lab in Leicestershire, which will process around 50,000 antigen tests a day in the next few weeks, and we have also opened a new lab at Newport."

The new "rule of six" was introduced yesterday to try and curb new infections.

Mr Hancock defended the rules, saying it was essential people followed the rules – including children, despite those under 11 and 12-years-old being excluded from the limit in Wales and Scotland respectively.

He said: "Children do transmit this virus, we made the decision to keep the rule simple and as simple as possible considering all these risks."

TEST PAY CON

Nicola Sturgeon said earlier that there have been reports of some fake callers pretending to work for Test and Protect, to try and con people by claiming payment is needed for a test.

She stressed that Covid-19 tests are free and said genuine Test and Protect staff will never ask people for financial information such as bank or credit card details and will only ask about people's movement and who they have been in contact with.

The First Minister said: "Sadly there are always a small number of people, and it's a tiny minority, who will try to exploit any situation they can to defraud people and it's truly and utterly despicable particularly at this time of crisis."

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