Brits warned Covid test shortage may see infectious people mixing over New Year


By 10am this morning, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the UK government website, after people around the country struggled to order kits for days and appointments for drive-through and walk-in Covid tests are unavailable in many areas

Friends having a Christmas party
An expert said people might mix with others without knowing if they are infectious due to the current shortage of Covid-19 tests (Stock photo)

A leading scientist has warned that the current shortage of Covid-19 tests could lead to people mixing over New Year without being able to check if they are infectious.

Professor Peter Openshaw said the situation is “very worrying” as the conditions at a New Year’s Eve gathering are “perfect” for spreading coronavirus.

The expert, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it’s very worrying indeed.

“We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don’t think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year.

“But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.”

Professor Peter Openshaw said the shortage of Covid tests is ‘worrying’
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Image:

British Society for Immunology)

The UK Government is scrambling to secure supplies of tests from around the world to meet a surge in demand as people try to comply with guidance to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people in England heading out for New Year’s Eve festivities on Friday to get tested, but a shortage of lateral flow and PCR tests could make it increasingly difficult.

By 10am this morning, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the UK government website, after people around the country struggled to order kits for days.

Appointments for drive-through and walk-in Covid tests were unavailable for hours yesterday and are still unavailable today.

Lateral flow test kits are unavailable on the government website
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Image:

GOV.UK)

Some slots were made available for a brief time on Wednesday afternoon but the site returned to showing no availability by around 5pm on Wednesday, Lincolnshire Live reports.

The gov.uk website was also showing that no home PCR test kits were available on Thursday morning.

Pharmacies around the country have also complained about patchy supplies of lateral flow kits.

Yesterday, the UK Health Security Agency said that eight million lateral flow test kits would be made available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.

People around the country have been unable to order Covid test kits online
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Image:

Jon Santa Cruz/REX/Shutterstock)

In a letter to all MPS in England, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned the testing system will need to be “constrained” on and off for a fortnight.

He wrote: “We are constantly reviewing system performance and ways to maximise its response to the demand for tests.

“However, in light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.”

It comes after the UK reported another record number of Covid-19 infections, with a further 183,037 people testing positive for the virus as of 9am on Wednesday.

Sajid Javid said the testing system will need to be ‘constrained’ on and off for a fortnight
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Image:

Getty Images)

Professor Openshaw said: “Many of us feel very, very sorry indeed that so many cases are arising but I think it was predictable that we would see this sort of rise given the intense infectivity of the Omicron variant.

“We could look at the numbers and we could see that unless some very unexpected miracle were to happen we were going to see numbers of this sort.”

The NHS is setting up new Nightingale “surge hubs” at hospitals across England as it goes on a “war footing” to prepare for a potential wave of Omicron hospital admissions.

Work on a total of eight hubs, each with a capacity of around 100 patients, is set to begin as early as this week, according to NHS England.

People have been urged to get tested before attending New Year’s Eve celebrations
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Image:

PA)

Further sites could also be identified to add a further 4,000 “super surge” beds.

The move comes as hospitals are using hotels, hospices and care homes to safely discharge as many people who are medically fit to leave as possible – freeing up beds for those who need them most.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Given the high level of Covid-19 infections and increasing hospital admissions, the NHS is now on a war footing.”

A total of 10,462 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am on December 29, according to figures from NHS England.

This is up 48% from a week earlier and is the highest number since March 1.

A pharmacy in London displays a sign notifying customers that there are no rapid antigen tests in stock
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Image:

REUTERS)

During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on January 18.

Prof Openshaw said: “The hospitalisations have now hit about 10,000 and about 70% of those are directly due to Covid.

“The daily admissions are increasing, the hospitalisations have roughly doubled in the last 10 days.

“There’s always quite a lag in these figures and of course it’s much too early to know what that’s going to translate to in terms of people who will very sadly die.

“But I think it is inevitable that over time this will show up as the patients present and go through the course of their disease.”

Yesterday, the UK reported another record high number of Covid infections
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Image:

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The chairman of the Royal College of GPs said Omicron is still “spreading like wildfire” and causing “massive problems” for doctors surgeries.

Professor Martin Marshall said growing numbers of staff being forced to self-isolate combined with the challenges of ramping up the vaccination programme has put practices under strain.

Efforts to increase vaccinations have been particularly difficult in London, the epicentre of the Omicron spread, because uptake is slower in the capital, he told Times Radio.

Prof Marshall, who works as a GP in east London, said: “Covid is still spreading like wildfire and that’s having massive implications on the health service generally.”

He added: “What we’re seeing is more and more patients that we’re seeing in general practice, we’re advising in general practice, with Covid symptoms.

“We’re seeing increased numbers of staff who are having to self-isolate and either working from home if they’ve got the electronic capability to do so or just not being able to contribute and that’s putting pressure on the rest of the staff left in general practice.

“And of course as you say we’re seeing general practice over the Christmas period and the longer term contributing to the vaccination programme and that’s been an important piece of work but in London a particular challenge where the uptake has been slower.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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