Coronavirus testing shortage is down to second wave that will only get worse, warns Oxford prof

A SHORTAGE of coronavirus tests is down to a second wave of the bug that will only get worse, an expert has warned.

Towns and cities across the UK are battling a surge in cases of Covid-19 and a lack of capacity has meant many Brits are unable to access tests locally when they develop symptoms.

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Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University this morning said that the issue with the government's testing programme is the looming second wave.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Sir John, who has been overseeing the Government's antibody test programme and advising ministers said the "speed of the second wave had been underestimated".

"What’s going wrong is the second wave, a month ago they had spare capacity and testing, significant spare capacity.

"What had been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive but also the pressure put on the system from children returning to school and the testing demands associated with that.

"People are increasingly out and about and I think we are definitely behind the curve with getting the necessary tests of what we need today."

We haven’t hit winter yet, we haven’t all started to sniffle, get fevers, get colds, and that’s going to add additional confusion to the problem

He added that there had been a real effort to try and identify new test platforms to use and test large numbers of people.

Sir John added that there is currently work going on to automate platforms so they can handle the number of tests coming through.

"There will be an increase in our capacity in the next two weeks."

He said the lack of tests isn't likely to improve anytime soon.

"This will get worse because of course we haven’t hit winter yet, we haven’t all started to sniffle, get fevers, get colds, and that’s going to add additional confusion to the problem."

 

 

His comments come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed his aim to test millions of people per day in rapid testing.

Sir John said that this would come in stages and added that there is a lot of manual labour to be done to ensure tests are processed.

"Demand will go up – the real question is if they can get supply in a position where it can outpace demand.

"There is still a bit of manual work at the front end and the logistics of this is complicated – if you wanted to get 200,000 swab tests in for example, through automated labs every day, some has to take the swabs out of the packages, get them in the solutions and in the machines.

"That's quite a lot of heavy duty manual labour".

A report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) said the UK has drawn up plans to eventually carry out up to 10 million Covid-19 tests a day by early next year.

Sir John said: "Let's back off the 10 million a day," adding: "It'll be two or three million I think, in the first instance."

Asked whether he had advised the Prime Minister not to use the word "moonshot", Sir John said: "Well, I I do remember the space shuttle Challenger.

"So there are several ways to do moonshot. Apollo 13 (sic) was great, Challenger was not so great."

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said the health service in England had been hit by staff being off work who were unable to get a test.

He said the health service "simply can't spare members of staff waiting for tests, not being able to come into work" and patients unable to be tested.

"There is a significant impact and a growing impact on the NHS, and that is a problem," he added.

"Nobody knows how widespread this problem is, nobody knows how long it's going to go on for, nobody knows, for example, given that there are scarcities of tests, about who's going to be prioritised for those tests that are available."

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