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Impact of coronavirus test shortage revealed as investigation finds no slots anywhere in London

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 September 2020

People queue up outside a walk through coronavirus testing centre. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

People queue up outside a walk through coronavirus testing centre. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

People with suspected coronavirus have been left unable to book a test slot anywhere in London, an investigation has found.

Attempts to arrange walk-in or drive-in slots in each of the 32 London boroughs were yesterday (Wednesday, September 16) met with the message: “No test sites found.” The same problem was continuing this morning.

It came as the number of daily cases increased to almost 4,000 across the UK yesterday and a doctor admitted there was “a good chance” a second wave of the killer virus was starting in east London.

The number of patients with coronavirus being admitted to hospital in London increased to 31, the highest daily number since the start of July.

Rupert Pearse, an intensive care doctor at Barts Health, tweeted: “There is a good chance we are seeing the start of a second wave in east London. What has changed in the last few days is the number of positive test results in patients coming to hospital. These had fallen to almost (not quite) zero but are now rising sharply… we do need to take this seriously.”

Postcodes for each borough were entered yesterday by the Local Democracy Reporting Service at least once to attempt to book but on every occasion nothing was available.

But if a postcode in Scotland was entered into the Government website, hundreds of test slots were immediately available in Dundee and Aberdeen.

The shortage continued this morning, with new slots in London being snapped up within minutes. By 10am, the nearest testing sites being offered were in Ramsgate and Swindon.

The crisis around testing was growing in London as more families told how they were having to self-isolate for days because they were unable to book tests.

Rubina Miah, from Hackney Wick, found herself unable to book a test for her daughter, seven, who attends school on the Isle of Dogs.

She said: “I’ve been trying to book a test for my daughter over the weekend as she has come down with a cold with a high temp. None available anywhere. Now I’m going to have to keep her off school for the rest of the week, as well as her sibling who seems absolutely fine.”

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Tina Stevens, from Tower Hamlets, was trying for two days to get a test on the Government website.

Ms Stevens, who works in a school, said: “I am a key worker and was given a code to say this and it made absolutely no difference. I was utterly shocked that this was how it was. I eventually was able to get a test through my son’s school, who is also my employer.”

Redbridge remains the worst-hit local authority – recording 38 cases per 100,000 people and 117 new infections in the latest weekly figures.

One of the largest permanent Covid-19 testing centres in London opened in the borough in July. However dozens of people had to be turned away from the site in Ilford town centre at the weekend because it “could not cope”, the council said.

Council leader Jas Athwal said: “If we’re to stand a chance of beating this virus people must have quick and easy access to testing facilities. We currently have one permanent site and a regular mobile testing unit in Redbridge, but that isn’t enough.

“It is utterly unacceptable that the centre had to turn away residents over the weekend and stop allowing walk-ins. We find it unacceptable that the Government’s lack of adequate testing processes can mean a risk to people’s lives.”

The Government has also moved to shut down an alleged “loophole” where people desperate for a test were obtaining QR codes necessary for having a test by booking appointments in places hundreds of miles from their homes, such as Scotland, then turning up with them at a London testing centre. People on social media had claimed they had managed to have a test by using the “hack”.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) was unable to say how many community tests were available in London.

A DHSC spokesperson said people should not book a test at one site and present at another and “if someone turns up with the wrong QR code for a site, they will be turned away and advised to go to the site they booked”.

He added: “NHS Test and Trace is providing tests at an unprecedented scale – 200,000 a day on average over the last week – with the vast majority of people getting tested within six miles of their home.

“There has been a spike in demand in recent weeks and the message is clear – only people with symptoms should be requesting a test.

“We’re doing everything possible to overcome this challenge – including by bringing in new labs that can process tens of thousands of tests a day, opening new test sites, and trialling new rapid tests that will give results on the spot.”


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