As of 24 March, 90,436 people in the UK had been tested for coronavirus. Currently, about 6,000 people are tested for the virus daily. By the end of this month, I understand that the government wants to test 10,000 people a day, rising to 25,000 by the end of April.
Now, only patients in hospital with flu-like symptoms are being routinely tested for the virus. This simply isn’t good enough and my Labour colleagues and I are urgently calling on the government to heed World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and scale up routine testing as a matter of priority.
I’m extremely concerned that those on the frontline in the NHS, social care and other key professions are not being widely tested, even if they have symptoms. This means staff could be unknowingly transmitting the virus or unnecessarily self-isolating for 14 days at a time of immense pressure on frontline services. It must be an absolute and urgent priority for the NHS and care staff to access testing.
I welcome that tests will become available to assess who has had the disease in the past, but this must be introduced alongside widespread community testing and social tracing of those with the virus now. This is the only way we can fully understand the scale and spread of the disease, and how best we can stop it. As the Director General of the World Health Organisation said, ‘We cannot stop this pandemic if we do not know who is infected.’
Today (26 March), the government’s chief medical officer has said that tests to see who has had the disease are unlikely to be available within the next few days. However, the government is working to develop these tests and increase testing capacity. I’ll do my best to keep you updated with any further information I receive about testing or do check my website for regular updates on this fast-moving situation.