No queues at giant testing site near Manchester airport

So where are all the sick people? Coronavirus testing centres stand deserted as Government urges more people with symptoms to apply for one under new ‘Test and Trace’ regime

  • Government has announced test and trace scheme will begin from May 28 without NHS coronavirus app
  • Testing capacity is at 161,000 a day but latest numbers show that only 117,000 were carried out today
  • Regional testing centres at Glasgow and Manchester Airports and in Weston-super-Mare stood empty today
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced the introduction of the new Test and Trace programme to bring the coronavirus under control, as concerns were raised over the Government’s testing regime.

At the Downing Street briefing today, Mr Hancock said the new system would be up and running by 9am tomorrow without the NHS’ coronavirus app that records close contacts as the Government attempt to push ahead with its plan to bring an end to the nationwide lockdown.

It was also revealed that coronavirus tests will be made available to everyone with symptoms in a bid to reach Boris Johnson’s target of 200,000 tests a day.

But it was a different story at several drive-in testing sites across the country, with airport and outlet store car parks almost deserted in the middle of the day.

Testing capacity now stands at 161,000 a day, but the latest numbers showed that only 117,000 were carried out. 

Photographs taken at Glasgow and Manchester Airports’ testing centres showed only one or two cars at clinical tents while soldiers were left waiting for vehicles to arrive at a car park in Weston-super-Mare.

The lack of upscaling in tests being carried out, despite pledges by Government ministers of ‘ramping up’, has led to criticism that more should be done to encourage key workers and others to get tested.

Figures for yesterday showed that 84 per cent of all tests taken at drive-in centres were returned within 24 hours, and 95 per cent of all tests within 48 hours.

Drive-in testing centres across the country were today left empty as the Government announced the start of the Test and Trace programme to help bring coronavirus under control. Pictured: Manchester Airport

Soldiers were left waiting for vehicles to arrive at a newly opened mobile test centre staffed by the army in Locking Road car park in Weston-super-Mare

Photographs taken at Glasgow Airport’s car park test centre showed the national picture of unfilled testing centres

Testing capacity now stands at 161,000 a day, but the latest numbers showed that only 117,000 were carried out

Baroness Dido Harding, who has been appointed chair of the NHS Test and Trace programme, said of the figures: ‘I still don’t think that’s good enough. It’s got to get better and better.’ 

The Government is pinning its hopes of ending the nationwide lockdown on the success of the test and trace scheme.

But it will go live tomorrow, earlier than the June 1 launch date which had been anticipated, without the NHSX coronavirus app which digitally records close contacts and will massively speed up the contact tracing process.

Baroness Harding claimed the app is just the ‘cherry on the cake, not the cake itself’ but ministers had wanted the technology, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, to roll out nationwide in the middle of this month.

But problems with its development have seen it delayed which means the new scheme will initially be entirely reliant on an army of 25,000 contact tracers to track people down and prevent a second wave of infections.

Ms Harding did concede that the rollout of the massive new system is unlikely to be straightforward as she said: ‘There will be some kinks, for sure.’

There remain major question marks over how the system will work in practice with ministers not intending to fine people who refuse to self-isolate. 

The lack of upscaling in tests being carried out, despite pledges by Government ministers of ‘ramping up’, has led to criticism that more should be done to encourage key workers and others to get tested.

Figures for yesterday showed that 84 per cent of all tests taken at drive-in centres were returned within 24 hours, and 95 per cent of all tests within 48 hours

Baroness Dido Harding, who has been appointed chair of the NHS Test and Trace programme, said of the figures: ‘ I still don’t think that’s good enough. It’s got to get better and better’

Meanwhile, councils and public health officials will be tasked with containing any localised outbreaks of the disease in the future, with local authorities warning they must be given the required powers to act.

Experts said there could be ‘several points of failure’ with the test and trace scheme.

Prof Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said for it to work there would need to be sufficient testing capacity, fast results, confidence in the data handling and a willingness from people to self-isolate.

She said: ‘This is going to be very challenging for some and that means that the “support” element of test and trace (statutory sick pay and access to food and medicines if needed) will have to work well, and be put in place quickly. Given all these steps, we shouldn’t expect that this will work perfectly and there could be several points of failure.’

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, said the Government should never have ‘abandoned contact tracing in mid-March’ and and that decision had left a ‘huge gap in our defences against the virus’.

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