Covid-19: Robert Peston tells James O'Brien why government aren't testing more people

1 April 2020, 14:54

By Fiona Jones

Political editor Robert Peston explains to James O'Brien why the government are not able to test more people each day for coronavirus.

Robert Peston said the government have been "in touch a lot" trying to assure him that they are taking steps to improve the volume of testing, after the political editor sent Tweets last night questioning the amount of daily testing.

The test he was referring to is the test to discern whether someone has the virus and is infectious, as opposed to a blood test which determines if a person has built up immunity to coronavirus, having already had it.

He said they made the point that "if you look at why Germany has been successful in carrying out more tests it is because there are more labs in Germany creating these testing kits."

Mr Peston added: "The very specialised reagents that are the basis of the testing kits aren't made by just any old chemicals company."

The UK's Chemicals Industry Association told Mr Peston the basic ingredients of these reagents are not in short supply: "If the government had spoken to them about ramping up the capacity to turn those basic ingredients into the specialist reagents, they would have got right on it."

The body said they were surprised that they have not been approached by the government to engage in a national effort to correct the shortage, despite having a meeting yesterday with the business minister, Mr Peston said.

He referenced that the government launched a national effort to increase the supply of ventilators, using car manufacturers as resources.

"Why weren't they doing the same when it comes to testing?" asked Robert Peston, "It's a bit of a mystery and obviously a concern, particularly for people working in the NHS who can't work at the moment because they can't be tested."

He posited a reason for this; back in February when the government could have been acquiring significant stocks of tests, they took the view that the virus would not be as harmful as it turned out to be, and they also thought that herd immunity could be at least part of the solution.

"When we're through all of this there will have to be an inquiry about the misjudgement that was made and therefore why we moved late in the day to this suppression strategy."

"As part of a suppression strategy, you really do need to know who's got the virus so that those people, particularly in the NHS who don't have it, are able to work."

"My sense is that this is something the government has now recognised as a priority and one only has to hope they move heaven and earth to fix it."

For the other blood tests, said Robert Peston, he is looking for a definitive answer on when they may come into circulation.