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Health secretary promises strengthened system

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This is after reports of problems with booking PCR and getting lateral flow kits

Author: Seb Cheer, with PA political editor David HughesPosted 38 minutes ago

The Health Secretary has written to all MPs in England, promising a strengthened Covid-19 testing program.

This follows reported issues with obtaining lateral flow kits in recent weeks, as well as difficulties in booking PCR in recent days.

Sajid Javid says the number of lateral flow kits available in January and February will double from the expected 100 million per month to 300 million.

Royal Mail’s delivery capacity is doubled to reach 900,000 test packs and PCR tests per day.

However, the health secretary also admitted that these measures will not have an immediate impact and therefore there could be constraints until then.

A “very worrying” situation

Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said conditions at a New Year’s Eve rally were “perfect” for spreading the coronavirus.

“I think it’s really, really worrying,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.

“We know the situations in which the transmission occurs and luckily I don’t think we are facing the kind of lockdown that was necessary to deal with the very start of this year.

“But we do know that getting together in poorly ventilated spaces, especially if you are screaming over loud music, etc., is absolutely perfect for transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus. ”

In England – unlike other parts of the UK – nightclubs remain open and there are no limits to social diversity.

The NHS Covid Pass is required to enter nightclubs, but it can be obtained by people with a double bite, rather than requiring proof of a negative test.

Letter from Sajid Javid to deputies

The Health Secretary wrote to all MPs in England, describing the country’s testing regime as “top notch”:

I am writing to provide an update on what we are doing to strengthen our testing regime in light of unprecedented demand across the UK.

Testing played a key role in our response to COVID-19 – we have used testing to find cases, protect the most vulnerable (such as in nursing homes or hospitals) and to help keep children in face to face education.

More recently, our testing capacity has allowed us to take further steps towards normal living, including reducing periods of self-isolation to reunite people with loved ones over Christmas time, keeping places open that would pose otherwise a much greater risk due to the use of the COVID Pass and has allowed vaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive person to take daily tests instead of having to self-isolate.

Unlike many countries, the UK government provides symptomatic and asymptomatic testing free of charge and provides isolation support payments to those in need, demonstrating our commitment to keeping the country running smoothly and avoiding restrictions. unwanted (especially during the holiday season when many families get together). We do this by doing more tests per capita than any other comparable country and we have focused our recent communications on encouraging testing before seeing friends and relatives, especially those who are vulnerable, during the holiday season. .

The arrival of the Omicron variant has resulted in a record number of cases and an unprecedented demand for PCR and Lateral Flow Device (LFD) testing. This inevitably put a strain on the test system, despite the impressive increase in procurement, logistics and laboratory capacities. Other countries have faced similar challenges.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 350 million PCR and LFD tests have been recorded in England (almost 400 million in the UK), and we are now seeing an average of around 1.5 million tests reported every day. . In response to recent challenges, the UK Health Security Agency more than doubled LFD shipments from 120 million tests to nearly 300 million in December, more per capita than any other country.

To meet anticipated demand over the next few weeks, we are purchasing hundreds of millions of additional LFD tests, bringing in new products and accelerating their deployment to the public. We are also doubling our total delivery capacity with Royal Mail to 900,000 test packs and PCR tests per day. We are tripling LFD’s supply in January and February compared to our pre-Omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.

We are constantly examining how the system is performing and how to maximize its response to the demand for testing. However, in light of the huge demand for LFD seen over the past three weeks, we expect to have to constrain the system at certain times over the next two weeks to handle supply during each day, with new ones. supply tranches released regularly. throughout each day.

Our daily PCR capacity has also been increased from around 530,000 per day in November to 700,000 per day now, excluding tests for patients and NHS staff being treated in hospitals. Our world-leading Lighthouse laboratory network has worked and will continue to work 24/7 over Christmas and New Years to address the tests, although like many industries staff illness is affected.

We will continue to make testing available to all who need it, especially vulnerable groups such as residents of nursing homes and those working in critical sectors such as caregivers. Today, for example, there was particularly strong demand from nursing homes with 190,000 PCR tests submitted to laboratories for processing, and these groups have had and will continue to be a priority. Everyone eligible for antiviral drugs will receive a PCR kit in the mail by mid-January, which they can keep at home for use in case of symptoms. These will also be prioritized in the laboratories.

I encourage you and your constituents to continue testing when you engage in the most risky activities and before coming into contact with people at risk for serious illness. If people cannot get tests through GOV.UK, they should try local pharmacies or see if their local authority distributes tests. Tests can also be collected from some community places such as libraries. If your voter attends or works at a school, college, or nursery, they may also take rapid tests. I want to thank your constituents for their continued understanding and patience during this unprecedented time.

Finally, I would like to thank the men and women on whom our testing system is based. Whether they work in laboratories, at test sites or in our logistics network, they rise to the challenge, volunteering to work shifts and overtime to provide the testing capacity our country needs in this difficult period. We owe each of them our gratitude.

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