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‘We tested fewer than 20 a day, we have capacity for 200’ – virus test centre worker

Written by on 14 September 2020

A worker at a coronavirus testing centre has told Sky News that they are working at only a fraction of capacity, even as people complain they cannot get a test.

The number of positive coronavirus tests in the UK rose by 2,621 in the latest 24-hour period but some people wanting a test have been told to travel many miles.

The testing centre worker, who did not want to be named but who works in the Midlands, said: “Over the last two days of testing – Saturday and Sunday – we probably only tested less than 20 people on each day.

“We have a capacity of over 200.”

He added: “People are presenting sometimes with children with symptoms and they’re more frustrated than worried.

“Their children are being kept out of school and they want to be able to get them tested and back into school and we weren’t able to help them because we’d been instructed only to accept people who have a valid QR (quick response) code.”

Among those struggling to get tested are Yasmin Hajiali and her husband Afzal, who live in Bolton.

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Mr Hajiali, a security worker, has been told one of his colleagues tested positive and his boss has told him he cannot return to work until he has been tested and cleared.

Bolton has the UK’s highest rate of infection – almost 10 times higher than the rate that would put a country on the UK’s quarantine list.

Mrs Hajiali said she had been “trying for days” to get online to arrange a test but phoned the number supplied and only managed to get a “recorded message that says you’re not going to be able to book a test”.

She was sent from one testing centre to the town hall after being told they had been giving out home testing kits there yesterday, but to no avail.

She was told there would be no more tests until Saturday, describing the situation as “a catastrophe, a farce”.

Bolton’s council chiefs have called for the government to fix the “major flaws” in the online booking system for tests “as a matter of the utmost priority”.

Conservative leader of the council, David Greenhalgh, said: “In our experience, there are major flaws with the online booking system but this is a nationally-run site which is not locally run and is out of our control.

“We as a local authority have done everything asked of us. Our teams have been working hard to increase testing capacity in Bolton – two new test centres have opened in the borough and a third is due to open this week.

“And yet we know these two new sites are currently operating below capacity, and our own residents cannot access a local test.”

The difficulties are not confined to Bolton.

Director of public health for Cheshire West and Chester, Ian Ashworth, said: “Additional testing capacity is essential to help prevent further spread of the virus in Cheshire and Merseyside but also the North West.

“Currently the North West region has 25% of the COVID-19 national cases and yet has access to only 15% of the national testing capacity.”

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Council leaders in Sefton, Merseyside, and in Bury, Greater Manchester, have made similar pleas.

Sefton’s director of public health, Margaret Jones, said the increase in demand there has “meant that laboratories need even greater capacity to cope with the demand”.

“Many of the people now seeking tests do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and it is those people we are asking to wait a little longer while the capacity in laboratories is developed nationally.”

Bury Council also blamed those without symptoms for lengthy queues at the area’s two walk-through sites.

Andrea Simpson, cabinet member for health and well-being, added: “We are doing our very best to ensure people get a test when they need one but capacity is limited.”

Have you applied for a coronavirus test today? We’d like to hear whether you were successful, and, if you were, how far from home you were offered a test. Please e-mail us at news@sky.com