Government plans to reportedly ration coronavirus testing if the health crisis exacerbates will leave large swathes of the public denied tests even if they have symptoms of the respiratory disease, reported The Telegraph.
Health officials are said to be drawing up a prioritisation list, which will limit routine testing to hospital patients, care homes, certain key workers and schools. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that the testing system had "huge problems" as it has faced a "colossal" spike in demand.
UK Justice Minister Robert Buckland also admitted that the country’s coronavirus testing capacity had been challenged by increasing wait times at laboratories.
Amid a recent spike in coronavirus cases in the UK, there were increasing delays in obtaining test results.
The number of people getting a positive result the day after testing had plummeted from 63 percent at the start of September to just eight percent this week.
The heightened demand for tests is being blamed, in part, on too many people seeking tests when they have not been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and do not have COVID-19 symptoms.
Government ministers reportedly claim that around a quarter of the current testing capacity is being taken up by members of the public who do not meet eligibility criteria. As an example, they cite parents who apply for testing because their child is in the same class or year as a pupil with likely symptoms.
While Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been reluctant to introduce eligibility checks, governed by a desire to grant people with symptoms speedy access to tests, government sources are cited as considering limiting tests. If demand continues to outstrip supply, the ministers might allegedly go ahead with their plans to restrict coronavirus testing to the most high-risk groups.
Citing a prioritisation list believed to have been compiled by health officials, the outlet writes that NHS patients, care home residents and frontline health and care workers will be at the head of the queue for testing.
Also suggested as high on the list are those living in places assessed by the Government as having concerning levels of coronavirus spread.
Schools, including teachers and pupils, rank lower in priority, but, nonetheless, are spared the threat of a possible withdrawal of testing, says the report.
The general public purportedly lies at the bottom of the queue, particularly in areas not suffering major coronavirus outbreaks.
"We are not yet at the stage of restricting access to tests for those people who have symptoms, and it is not something we want to do,” a government source was cited as saying, adding that at least a quarter of people who come for tests aren't eligible because they are asymptomatic.
Underscoring that the proposals were aimed at deterring this group, the source added:
"If we can do that while we are increasing capacity for tests we may not need to restrict tests for anyone with symptoms. But at the moment we are considering the options for what to do further down the road if it comes to that."
COVID-19 Surge in UK
As the United Kingdom recorded nearly 4,000 new coronavirus cases in a day for the first time since the start of May, with a 24-hour spike from 3,539 to 3,991, on Wednesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government was doing everything in its power to dodge a second national lockdown, which he suggested would be financially "disastrous".
The Rule of Six was re-introduced in the UK on 14 September to replace earlier guidance allowing gatherings of up to 30 people.
Ministers are now reportedly gearing up to announce further localised measures such as pub curfews and a ban on households mixing across areas of the north-east from Friday, says The Telegraph.
A spike in coronavirus cases in Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside and County Durham might reportedly call for another lockdown locally, with potential restrictions said to apply to two million people.
As for schools, headteachers are cited as suggesting a rota system of two weeks on, two weeks off might be introduced, unless the testing system is dramatically improved.
On 16 September, Johnson said the Government was doing everything possible to dodge a second nationwide lockdown.
"I think it would be completely wrong for this country and we are going to do everything in our power to prevent it. I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous," Johnson told MPs.
The Prime Minister hailed the new restrictions such as the rule of six as necessary to "defeat" coronavirus, while admitting the current testing system had insufficient capacity to cope with demand.
Johnson also acknowledged that the technology for his ambitious “moonshot” mass testing plan appeared to be a "long way off", adding:
"I'm going to be cautious and say that I can't sit here today and say we have such a pregnancy-style test."