'Hundreds' turned away from Catford test site after QR code 'shambles'

17 September 2020, 19:29 | Updated: 17 September 2020, 20:26

Hundreds of people were said to have been turned away from the site in Catford
Hundreds of people were said to have been turned away from the site in Catford. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

"Hundreds" of people have been turned away from a mobile testing unit in south-east London after not being sent QR codes despite making bookings.

Jack, a 25-year-old who travelled from Blackheath to the temporary site in Catford, Lewisham, on Thursday, told LBC he did not receive a confirmation email with a QR code despite booking a test for 3pm.

"After booking the test, I received no confirmation email with the QR code despite the website saying it would send one," he said.

Jack said that he assumed this was the case for everyone because "apparently no QR codes were sent out", which meant that tests could not be completed.

It comes after an LBC investigation revealed that there were no tests available for the top 10 hotspots in England on Monday and, two days later, only two of the 48 English hotspots had tests available for people trying to book via the government website.

In Catford, many people, who had been queuing for hours, were turned away from the centre because of the failure.

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However, the 25-year-old decided to go along to the site anyway in the hope that he could just give the staff his details, only to find more than an hour's worth of congestion.

"The traffic was definitely caused by the testing," Jack said.

"Hundreds of cars turned up to the centre despite no tests being available."

He told LBC that he arrived in Catford at 2:50pm, ten minutes before he was supposed to be tested, but was stuck in gridlock around the interchange until about 4pm.

"After hearing from others that no tests were being run I turned back and went home," he said.

Lewisham Council - who provide the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) with the space for testing units, which are run by security firm G4S - said it sympathised with people who have been unable to book tests via the government's portal.

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Mayor Damien Egan said: "We appreciate that people are really desperate to get a Covid-19 test and we sympathise with the frustration of not being able to book one via the governments portal.

"The situation at the mobile testing centre in Catford just emphasises the impact the government's restrictions on testing are having on Lewisham’s communities.

"These are families and hardworking people just trying to follow the rules. If you are trying to get a test and have symptoms, the most important thing you can do is stay home and self-isolate."

Deputy Mayor of London for Housing Tom Copley also spoke with people awaiting a test in Catford, who told him that "nobody is getting tested because none of them have received a QR code".

He wrote on Twitter: "Massive gridlock in Catford. Turns out a drive through Covid testing centre has been opened here. All roads inc south circular totally gridlocked.

"And after all that nobody is getting tested because none of them have received a QR code. Shambles doesn’t even begin to describe it."

G4S told LBC that it is not responsible for issuing QR codes, adding that it was the job of the DHSC.

Later in the day, some people with QR codes appeared to be turned away from the site after being told the last slot was at 3:30pm, despite having queued for hours.

Staff running the centre were seen packing the mobile unit away in front of those who had been waiting for a test.

Others were still arriving with the expectation of being tested after the site had closed.

Meanwhile, in Sunderland, reports have emerged of people turning up to a testing centre that does not exist, with hundreds queuing in cars "for at least two miles", only to find "a sign and a Portaloo".

A DHSC spokesperson said: “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.

“People who have booked a valid appointment at a testing site will receive a test. If someone turns up with the wrong QR code for a site, they will be turned away from the site and advised to go to the correct site they booked on.

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

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