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Top scientists fear ‘systems are NOT in place’ for Britain to ramp up COVID-19 testing

Leading scientists fear systems are not in place for the government to ramp up its testing to swab hundreds of thousands of people each day.

In his speech to the nation last night, Boris Johnson promised to dramatically ramp up testing as Britain moves towards finally leaving lockdown.

The Prime Minister said the UK had made ‘fast progress’ on testing, as he pledged a ‘world-beating system’ for testing and tracing COVID-19 spread.

But one top virologist admitted he was ‘not convinced’ Britain had the infrastructure in place to drastically scale up its swabbing scheme. 

Department of Health statistics released yesterday showed fewer than 93,000 tests were carried out across the home nations on May 9.

It means health chiefs have failed to hit the ambitious target of carrying out 100,000 tests for eight days in a row. 

Questions have also today been raised about the government’s contact-tracing app, which could be ditched in favour of a different model. 

Fewer than 50,000 people living on the Isle of Wight – 35 per cent of its population – have downloaded the app since a trial began last week.

But experts say around two-thirds of Britain – the equivalent of 40million people – will eventually need to install the app for it to work.

Boris Johnson addressed the nation from Downing Street to sketch out a road map from lockdown

Figures released today show fewer than 93,000 tests were carried out on May 9, meaning officials haven’t met their ambitious pledge of 100,000 a day since May 2

TESTING IN CARE HOMES IS STILL ‘VERY PATCHY’ 

Testing for those living in care homes is ‘still very patchy’ despite a pledge by the government to check all staff and residents for COVID-19, an operator has said. 

Avery Healthcare, which houses around 2,500 residents in 56 care homes across England, said the testing facilities still currently varied across the country. 

In mid-April the government gave assurances that all frontline care workers in need of a test should have one. 

On April 28, it was announced that coronavirus tests would be extended to residents and staff in care homes – regardless of whether they have symptoms. 

A spokesman for Avery said that while testing is increasing for social care staff, checks for residents are not yet available ‘in the quantity or consistency’ providers are hoping for. 

‘Testing is now becoming more readily available for our staff and obviously as with every provider, we’re encouraging our staff to go and get tested as quickly as possible,’ the spokesman said. 

‘Testing for residents is starting to become available but not in the quantity or consistency across the country that we would want. And I’m sure that goes for every operator, it is still very patchy.’

Mr Johnson last night turned the screw on Matt Hancock by vowing the government would increase daily testing to the hundreds of thousands.

The embattled Health Secretary – whose job is reportedly hanging by a thread after a bust-up with the PM – will be tasked with delivering the goal. 

Mr Johnson said last night: ‘If we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts.

‘So that – all told – we are testing literally hundreds of thousands of people every day.

‘We have made fast progress on testing – but there is so much more to do now, and we can.

‘When this began, we hadn’t seen this disease before, and we didn’t fully understand its effects.

‘With every day we are getting more and more data. We are shining the light of science on this invisible killer, and we will pick it up where it strikes.’

Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, raised concerns over the Prime Minister’s pledge. 

‘Recognition of the importance of infection control through extensive testing and effective contact tracing was a welcome statement,’ he said.

‘But I am not convinced the systems are really in place to do this. Hopefully clarity will emerge over the next few days.’

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said: ‘The Prime Minister’s statement today certainly left a lot of questions unanswered.

Mr Hancock's cabinet job is reportedly hanging by a thread after a bust-up Mr Johnson, who was scathing over the handling of the crisis while he was in hospital

Mr Hancock’s cabinet job is reportedly hanging by a thread after a bust-up Mr Johnson, who was scathing over the handling of the crisis while he was in hospital

BRITAIN COULD DITCH ITS CONTACT TRACING APP BEFORE IT IS EVEN ROLLED OUT ACROSS THE UK 

Britain could ditch its coronavirus contact-tracing app before it has even been rolled out nationwide, a senior government minister has admitted.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick revealed the app – being piloted on the Isle of Wight – may need to ‘adapt’ or ‘move to a different model’. 

Fewer than 50,000 people living on the island, or 35 per cent of its population, have downloaded the app since the trial began last week.

But experts say around two-thirds of Britain – the equivalent of 40million people – will eventually need to install the app for it to work.  

The app, which works using Bluetooth, alerts users if they have been in close contact with someone who has reported symptoms of COVID-19.

But its design has sparked privacy concerns, with officials admitting the ‘centralised’ NHS approach sees personal data stored in one database. 

Other nations have adopted an app model which stores data in a ‘decentralised’ way, meaning the app does not harvest location data.  

Google and Apple’s own decentralised tech has been adopted by European nations including Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. 

Health chiefs – keen to roll the app out nationwide in the next week – are understood to be looking at switching to the system used by the two tech giants. 

‘Whilst little seems to have changed for the rest of this month at least, it is still far from clear what the practicalities are of what we can and cannot do.’

He added that before any significant change, Britain needs to ensure ‘we have fully adequate testing services in place’.

Professor Azra Ghani, of Imperial College London, said: ‘Such testing should not be driven by an arbitrary threshold; rather it should be driven by need.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News that the Labour Party had pushed the Government to ‘speed up’ its response to the pandemic.

He added: ‘We pushed the Government on lockdown, we pushed them on testing, we pushed them on PPE.

‘Now we pushed and challenged with the purpose, which was to try to get them to speed up.

‘And I said that under my leadership we’re not out to score party political points. So it was to get them to speed up and to ramp up.’

Figures released by the Department of Health yesterday afternoon showed 92,837 tests were carried out on May 9.

It means more than 1.8million swabs have now been carried out since Britain began to test suspected patients at the start of the crisis.

Figures also show 1.3million Britons have now been tested for COVID-19 – around 2 per cent of the 66million population.

TESTING FIRM GIVEN £130MILLION TO MAKE COVID-19 SWABS EMPLOYS TORY MP AS A PAID CONSULTANT 

A diagnostics firm won a £130million government contract to make COVID-19 swab tests without any other testing companies being invited to bid for the work, it was claimed today.

The Guardian also reported the firm – Randox Laboratories – has employed Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a paid consultant on £100,000 a year since 2015. 

Randox was awarded the contract by the Department of Health to help make testing kits that the government could use to ramp up its capacity to carry out 100,000 swabs each day. 

The newspaper reported that the DH said there was no other way of getting the testing kits and the ‘associated services that were urgently needed’ without paying Randox. 

It means that roughly 14 tests are carried out on every 10 people, suggesting that a third of suspected patients are tested twice.

People may be tested twice if something goes wrong during analysis, to confirm the result, or if a doctor doesn’t believe a negative result. 

While in other cases someone may be tested again after developing symptoms for a second time but testing negative in an earlier swab. 

Official data released by the Department of Health each day show the government has never tested more than 100,000 people in a 24-hour period. 

The government claimed to hit its target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April – but ministers were accused of fiddling the figures. 

Mr Hancock faced claims that he used postal tests yet to be completed and multiple checks on the same people to hit his six-figure milestone. 

The government has faced massive backlash over the lack of mass testing since the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, began spreading on British soil in February.

The UK effectively abandoned efforts to screen everyone with symptoms last month when the response moved from ‘containment’ to the ‘delay’ phase.

Instead tests were largely restricted to those in hospital, while those who suspected they were mildly infected were urged to self-isolate.

Ministers were stung by comparisons with countries like Germany and South Korea, which done huge scale testing and have had much lower death rates. 

HOW NUMBER 10 HAS RAMPED UP ITS TESTING CAPACITY 

DATE

Apr 1

Apr 2

Apr 3

Apr 4

Apr 5

Apr 6

Apr 7

Apr 8

Apr 9

Apr 10

Apr 11

Apr 12

Apr 13

Apr 14

Apr 15

Apr 16

Apr 17

Apr 18

Apr 19

Apr 20

Apr 21

Apr 22

Apr 23

Apr 24

Apr 25

Apr 26

Apr 27

Apr 28

Apr 29

Apr 30

May 1

May 2

May 3

May 4

May 5

May 6

May 7

May 8

May 9

May 10

TESTS PER DAY

10,412

10,657

11,764

10,984

11,085

13,069

14,006

14,682

16,095

19,116

18,091

18,000

14,506

14,982

15,994

18,665

21,328

21,389

21,626

19,316

18,206

22,814

23,560

28,532

28,760

29,058

37,024

43,563

54,429

81,611

122,347

105,937

76,496

85,186

84,806

69,463

86,583

97,029

96,878

92,837

Several private labs – which have the capacity to conduct thousands of tests a day – were ignored in their offers to help the government early on in the crisis. 

It was revealed yesterday that up to 50,000 coronavirus test samples had to be sent from the UK to the US to be analysed after ‘operational issues’ in the labs. 

In response to news, the Department of Health said it was one of the contingencies to deal with so-called teething problems in a rapidly-expanded testing system.

It is understood the test results – flown from Stansted Airport – will be validated back in the UK and communicated to patients ‘as quickly as possible’. 

In other developments to the UK’s testing fiasco, it was reported key workers trying to book a coronavirus test were offered slots requiring a 400-mile round trip. 

Results for some patients are taking up to 10 days to come back from the laboratory – despite ministers aiming to send results within 48 to 72 hours of the test.

The World Health Organization has previously said no country should consider lifting social distancing measures until it has the ability to test every suspected case.

Without mass testing, symptomatic people must assume they are infected and self-isolate, which experts fear they will refuse to do if lockdown frustration builds.

Ministers are clueless as to how big the UK’s COVID-19 outbreak truly is because of their controversial decision to abandon a widespread testing regime.

Number 10’s scientific advisers have said they estimate no more than 10 per cent of Britain has caught the virus – the equivalent of 6million people.

While estimates from antibody surveillance studies suggest up to 12million Brits may have had the virus, based on a death rate of around 0.4 per cent.

Last week it was claimed that accurate antibody tests that are able to tell millions of Britons if they have had coronavirus could be rolled out within a fortnight.

Testing giant Roche Diagnostics claimed it has created a kit accurate enough to be used at scale – after weeks of disappointment regarding Britain’s mass roll-out.  

Despite promising home antibody tests, the UK has not yet approved any because the Government insists it can’t find a kit that is accurate enough.

Antibody tests are considered key to easing lockdown and getting Britain back on its feet because they give the clearest picture of how widespread the virus is.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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