‘World beating shambles’ – Tests run out in England’s top COVID hotspots

Victoria Bell
·5-min read
A walk-in coronavirus testing centre on Southgate Street, Oldham, Greater Manchester, as people living in Oldham, Blackburn, and Pendle in Lancashire have been told not to socialise with anyone outside their household and avoid using public transport unless it is essential. The localised measures have been introduced following a rise in people testing positive for coronavirus.
A walk-in coronavirus testing centre on Southgate Street, Oldham, Greater Manchester. (PA)

MPs have branded England’s Test and Trace system a “world beating shambles” after it emerged that some of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots have no tests available.

According to LBC, tests are unavailable in Bolton, Salford, Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Preston, Pendle, Rochdale, Tameside or Manchester.

These areas have some of the highest infection rates in the UK, including Bolton, which currently has the highest rate of new infections, according to recent data.

Jim McMahon, the Labour MP for Oldham, said: “We are being left to face it alone, with harsher restrictions almost certainly coming.

“Three weeks of social lockdown, rocketing infection rates, online booking system completely fallen down, walk-in testing turning people away at the door, including children displaying symptoms.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the situation as “a world beating shambles”.

Meanwhile Bolton South East MP Yasmin Qureshi said: “Completely unacceptable. I spoke personally to the Health Secretary a week ago (as well as writing to him) and told him we needed an urgent and dramatic increase in testing capacity in Bolton. They have failed to deliver on that...”

And Lucy Powell, whose Manchester Central constituency is also under local lockdown, tweeted: “The failure of testing regime not only risks lives, but it significantly undermines trust and confidence in the measures the government are asking of us all. It can’t be beyond government to have anticipated a big rise in demand once schools returned as kids pick up colds etc”

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, also tweeted that she has had had six parents whose children need COVID tests because they were showing symptoms and won't be allowed back to school without a negative test result.

According to LBC, there were no tests available in the towns and cities and people were unable to book tests from the government website which says they are “currently very busy and try again later”.

The problem is understood to be down to a laboratory bottleneck.

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Professor Christina Pagel, of University College London, warned that the lack of tests will mean people will not be isolating and spreading the virus further.

“This is increasingly dangerous. People with COVID but no test confirmation will not necessarily be isolating and their contacts certainly won't,” she tweeted.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “It is wrong to say testing is not available in these areas, and our capacity continues to be targeted where it is needed most.

“Whilst we are seeing significant demand, over a million tests are being processed every week – with around 200,000 every day on average over the last week.

“New booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms, and Mobile Testing Units continue to be deployed to areas with local outbreaks.

“If you do not have symptoms and are not eligible to get a test, you can continue to protect yourself if you wash your hands, wear a face covering and follow social distancing rules.”

On Sunday, it emerged that government testing laboratories across the UK were facing a backlog of nearly 200,000 COVID-19 tests and are having to send some samples abroad to help reduce the pressure.

DHSC documents leaked to The Sunday Times showed a backlog of 185,000 tests on Friday.

Kelly Klifa, co-founder of Testing For All, a nonprofit company that makes cheap COVID-19 tests said: “The test centre has tests, so the bottleneck is the lab itself. The tests are being routed to the wrong location.”

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Since last week there have been widespread reports of issues and shortages, with people were forced to travel miles to get a test.

Last week, the director of testing at NHS Test and Trace apologised for people who were not able to get a test.

Matt Hancock was also condemned after he claimed that too many people without coronavirus symptoms were still seeking tests.

While explaining the testing situation, Hancock said stories of people deciding to get a test before going on holiday were “not appropriate”.

He was criticised by scientists for shifting the blame of problems with the testing system onto the public.

Sir Keir Starmer has also been very vocal about problems with test and trace, saying some people who have requested tests have been turned away.

Starmer said: “The government can’t even get the basics right.”

He went on: “The government is lurching from crisis to crisis. It still lacks even basic competence.

Last Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced plans for millions of people to be tested for coronavirus every day, in what has been dubbed a “moonshot” approach.

But some scientists have expressed doubts.

A memo published by the government's scientific advisory group (SAGE) last week warned mass testing could lead to an increased number of false positive results, or false negatives.