Rationing begins for coronavirus tests but children not on priority list

21 September 2020, 16:54 | Updated: 22 September 2020, 02:32

Coronavirus testing shortages have created huge issues
Coronavirus testing shortages have created huge issues. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the Government is now rationing coronavirus tests amid a shortages fiasco that left thousands in hotspots without the chance to get checked. 

The need for “prioritisation” comes with demand for tests outstripping the Government system’s ability to provide them, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising a “world-beating” framework by June. 

Mr Hancock confirmed that people with acute clinical needs would be at the front of the queue.

But children do not make the top six priority groups after Labour’s call for ministers to put them first, warning of mass school closures.

Behind the most vulnerable in the rationing list, in second and third place, care home residents and NHS staff - including GPs and pharmacists - will be prioritised for tests. 

Testing centres have stood empty amid supply chain issues
Testing centres have stood empty amid supply chain issues. Picture: PA

Testing will also be targeted in areas with local outbreaks and teachers will be given fifth priority if they have symptoms. 

Sixth, members of the public in areas with high incidence will be given priority.

The Health Secretary said: “The testing capacity we have is valuable. And we must together prioritise it for the people who need it the most.”

It comes after a surge in demand for tests and significant holes in the privatised supply chain which have left many unable to book a slot, or being told to travel hundreds of miles across the country. 

LBC revealed last week that there were no tests available in any of the top ten Covid-19 hotspots in England, while at points there were also none free on the Government’s portal in the whole of London.

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Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said testing capacity was at a record high 253,521 but “alongside this record expansion, demand has gone up too”.

He told MPs: “We need to prioritise the tests on those who need the most to save lives, protect the most vulnerable and make sure our health and care services and our schools can operate safely.

“Today we’ve published our list of where tests are being prioritised, setting out how we will make sure tests are allocated where they’re needed most.”

It came as the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the UK could see 50,000 new Covid-19 cases a day by mid-October and “200-plus deaths per day” by mid-November without further restrictions. 

The PM will chair a Cobra emergency meeting on Tuesday morning, with a further 4,368 cases and 11 deaths reported on Monday.  

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Earlier the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said the Government must urgently improve its testing regime in order to avoid "throwing away" the progress made by reopening schools. 

Some 350 schools in England and Wales were forced to close completely or to send children home last week following positive Covid-19 tests.

Speaking in the Commons, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth suggested the testing failure was to blame for the second wave.  

“None of us want to see another lockdown or circuit break but we understand if one becomes necessary,” he told MPs. 

“But test, trace and isolate should have been fixed. That failure has left us vulnerable and exposed. Now we must act with speed to save lives and minimise harm.”