The Prime Minister has urged people to take Covid tests before enjoying New Year celebrations, despite supply issues in the UK.
Ministers acknowledged a worldwide supply issue is hitting the UK as people again struggled to get tests through pharmacies or delivered to their home.
At a glance: 5 key points
- The UK is experiencing supply issues with Covid-19 tests
- No PCR tests were available for home delivery in some parts of the UK
- Home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were also unavailable
- In Scotland testing will be prioritised for essential workers
- No ‘quick fix’ to the problem
Health Secretary Sajid Javid set out the issues in a call with a Tory MP, acknowledging there is not a quick fix to a problem caused by global demand.
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, has said patients are often unable to find Covid-19 tests in chemists because of “patchy” and “inconsistent” supplies.
The Government website showed no PCR tests were available for home delivery – even for essential workers – in England or Northern Ireland, with “very few” in Scotland, while Wales had availability only in some regions.
Home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were also unavailable on Wednesday afternoon.
What has been said about the supply issues?
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said testing will be prioritised for essential workers as sampling processing capacity is “under pressure”.
She told the Scottish Parliament that “there were steps taken to constrain demand in England last night (Tuesday)”, meaning no slots were available to book at physical test sites but “an administrative error” also restricted appointments at sites in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale told the PA news agency that Mr Javid had admitted there is a problem with supplies – previously ministers and officials had insisted they had sufficient stocks but the problems were in delivering them to people’s homes or pharmacies.
The North Thanet MP said: “Saj was very honest with me, he said, ‘look, there isn’t a quick fix’.”
The Government has encouraged regular testing as a way of keeping England’s economy open while the devolved administrations have closed nightclubs and taken other steps to limit social contact.
Tests are also being used to replace self-isolation for contacts of confirmed Covid-19 cases, while people returning to work following the Christmas break has also added to demand.
Sir Roger said “we have created the demand in England which we now can’t satisfy” as a result.
He added: “The Prime Minister has now found himself caught between the Covid Recovery Group and supporters and the scientists.
“We are now facing the situation where No 10 is saying ‘go and get tested’ and the Department of Health is saying ‘we haven’t got the tests, we can’t do it’.”
He said Mr Javid is “busting a gut” to get supplies “but we’re competing with a global market”.
What else has been said?
During a visit to a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes on Wednesday, Mr Johnson urged people to get tested before New Year’s Eve festivities.
He told reporters: “Everybody should enjoy New Year but in a cautious and sensible way – take a test, ventilation, think about others but, above all, get a booster.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The failure to make enough tests available weeks after they became a requirement is a total shambles.
“People are trying to do the right thing, follow the Government’s own advice, and test themselves regularly, but are prevented by the Conservative Government’s incompetence.
“They need to get a grip and provide enough tests so people can keep themselves and everyone else safe.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “The current surge in cases means testing capacity – sampling and processing – is under pressure.
“So we are now prioritising some slots for essential workers – such as NHS and transport staff – as well as for those who are clinically vulnerable or eligible for new Covid treatments.”
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