Sunday, August 14th, 2022

UK Covid test shortage amid new year parties ‘very worrying’, says scientist | Coronavirus

A leading scientist has warned it is “very worrying” that a shortage of Covid-19 tests could lead to people mixing for new year celebrations without being able to see whether they are infectious.

Prof Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the conditions at a New Year’s Eve gathering were “perfect” for spreading coronavirus.

Asked about the prospect of untested people mixing due to a shortage of lateral flow devices, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.”

An error message on the government’s lateral flow test ordering website that appeared for several hours on Thursday said there were “no home delivery slots left”. For a time, there were also no PCR home tests available for either essential workers or the wider public, nor slots at walk-through and drive-in testing sites across England.

The issue led Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, to accuse the government of sending “mixed messages” about the reason for the shortage.

He said: “The government advice is reasonably clear about what people need to do before they’re allowed to socialise, before they’re allowed to release after self-isolation, but there’s no point in having that advice if as GPs we know we’re no longer able to help patients to actually act on that advice, and that’s a big issue for us.”

Prof Azeem Majeed, head of the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, also said there were not enough lateral flow tests to support the government’s policy for their “indiscriminate use”. He called for key workers and those identified as close contacts by Test and Trace to receive tests as a priority.

Ministers are grappling to avoid panic that there are not enough tests putting further strain on supplies, in a repeat of the fuel crisis seen earlier this year.

However, a significant surge in demand for tests was always likely given that the government told people to check they did not have the virus before seeing vulnerable relatives and socialising in big groups over the festive period.

Covid cases have also risen to their highest levels due to the Omicron variant, meaning that significantly more close contacts may need to test to check whether they have been infected.

Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said people “should be cautious about their new year” and that those socialising should “do it in a safe way”.

She told Sky News that if everyone could get access to a test before going out, that would be “absolutely critical” to decreasing the risk of Covid transmission at new year gatherings. “I’ll be having a very boring night in this year on my own,” Powell said of her own plans.

Those struggling to order a test online were told to “keep trying”.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK health security agency, admitted there were “some difficulties across the country both with pharmacies and with home testing requests”.

But she added: “We do release – and are continuing to release – test slots for individuals, so they should just keep trying through the day.

“Obviously as the Christmas period subsides, then the testing capacity should be more available to them. We do have good supplies and we will be endeavouring to get them to the right places.”

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