The United Kingdom is currently facing an upsurge in coronavirus cases, some areas and cities, or ‘hotspots’, are on enhanced support or have been placed into lockdown due to the rapid rise of cases. As this increase continues many more local lockdowns may prove imminent across the country. Despite insistence that the country will not yet be placed in another nationwide lockdown, due to the growth in cases, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently imposed new restrictions into law, meaning that only six people at any time are allowed to meet or gather. These restrictions will be enforced by the police and fines issued should they be broken. In the North East of England exclusive rules and curfews have also been put into place. In correlation with this, as the weekly number of people testing positive for coronavirus rises, the country is now experiencing testing shortages which may take weeks to resolve.
When the UK government was questioned on the lack of COVID-19 tests, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock stated, “I think we will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks… We are managing to deliver record capacity, but as he well knows demand is also high,” pointing to operational challenges as the cause of shortages. The Independent reported that Hancock suggested that the rationing of tests may need to be re-introduced as the testing program may need to prioritise once again. Earlier in the pandemic, the UK government was criticized for both its lack of testing and lack of available tests for both the healthcare services and the general public. It now seems that this again is a problem for the United Kingdom.
According to New Scientist, ‘between 3 and 9 September, 18,371 people were diagnosed with covid-19, which is “a substantial increase of 167 per cent compared to the end of August,” according to NHS Test and Trace. These may be “the last reliable figures” on the state of the nation’s epidemic for some time because of the reduced availability of tests, said Daniel Lawson at the University of Bristol in a statement.’
Lack of testing not only threatens the stability of the coronavirus response, but it means that millions will have to self-isolate, perhaps even when they do not have the virus, taking them away from key roles in the community. Already, there are reports of NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) staff having to self-isolate as they are unable to access tests for either themselves or their family members. Frontline NHS staff are integral to the fight against COVID-19 and losing staff however temporarily in this area could begin to overwhelm the healthcare service. Lack of testing is therefore of growing concern not only for members of the community but in many aspects in the fight against coronavirus as a whole.
Speaking to The Independent, Layla McCay, a director at the NHS Confederation said: “we are significantly concerned that some people with symptoms of Covid-19, including healthcare workers and their families, are having difficulty in accessing tests due to insufficient laboratory capacity. We need to see concrete evidence that the promised further increases in testing capacity and faster testing are achievable, and we also need immediate action to prioritize testing for key workers.”
One of the causes for lack of sufficient testing has been That laboratories simply do not have the capacity to quickly process the volume of tests coming in. Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, told Sky News “we’re increasing the number of test centres, we’ve got 400 test centres, getting it up to 500 but clearly there are still real challenges.” According to The Financial Times, “official data have indicated that the UK’s current testing capacity stands at 374,917, and under plans announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, the government hopes to reach 500,000 tests a day by the end of October,” and leaked health department showed a backlog of 185,000 tests waiting to be processed as of the 11th of September.
New Scientist reported “the time for tests to be returned is also taking longer. The proportion of test results received within 24 hours fell to 14.3 per cent during the same period in September, down from 32 per cent the week before. “Tests which take many days to report and action, are of no value in suppressing the pandemic,” said James Naismith at the University of Oxford in a statement.” Some local Doctors’ surgeries and the website for booking coronavirus test online are both struggling to cope with the amount of people requesting and needing tests. Testing, is an integral part of safeguarding against SARS-CoV-2 hence, the UK government is being urged to quickly resolve this matter in order to both prevent a second wave of the virus and limit the impact that not staying ahead of the coronavirus would cause on the country and economy as a whole.