THE government’s self-proclaimed ‘world-beating’ coronavirus testing system was last night branded a ‘shambles’ after people living in England’s ten top Covid-19 hotspots found it impossible to book an appointment.
No slots were available online — whether walk-in, drive-through or home test deliveries — in Blackburn, Bolton, Bradford, Oldham, Pendle, Preston, Rochdale, Salford, Tameside and Manchester, which have the country’s highest infection rates.
Even NHS workers are struggling to access testing, with some trusts facing staff shortages as employees are forced to self isolate while awaiting results.
Hospitals in Bristol, Leeds and London have raised concerns about the lack of tests available for key workers. Both prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have hailed the testing system — outsourced to a body led by Baroness Dido Harding — as ‘world-beating’. But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was ‘not just any shambles… but a world-beating shambles.’
The problems — revealed in an LBC investigation — were blamed on a processing backlog at laboratories. The government’s online response to people applying for a test was to no longer direct them to a centre hundreds of miles away. Instead, they were told: ‘This service is currently very busy. More tests should be available later. Warning: Do not call the helplines — you will not be able to get a test this way.’
The Department of Health and Social Care insisted it was responding to ‘significant demand’ and was trying to ensure capacity ‘continues to be targeted where it is needed most’.
The testing shambles was revealed as the country’s official coronavirus death toll rose by nine to 41,637 and 2,621 more people were infected.
Meanwhile, on the day the PM’s ‘Rule of Six’ on social gatherings came into force, home office minister Kit Malthouse encouraged the public to report neighbours breaking the law to police via the non-emergency 101 number.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt rejected suggestions people were being egged on to ‘grass up’ their neighbours. ‘I think what it relies on is all of us being responsible,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
But former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption said the new rules ‘would only be enforceable with an army of snoopers and informers’.
And Silkie Carlo, of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, told Metro: ‘This makes a mockery of the rule of law. Only in a Stasi-style society would people snitch on their neighbours.’