- UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has blamed the British public for delays to the government’s mass coronavirus testing program, saying many people seeking the tests have been “ineligible.”
- Sarah-Jane Marsh, who is responsible for the mass-testing program, on Tuesday apologized for the delays and said they were caused by issues with testing capacity in laboratories.
- Cases have particularly spiked in Bolton, England, where a councillor said the virus was “moving around uncontrolled.”
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced a ban on gatherings of more than six people in England amid rising cases.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested the British public is to blame for a shortage in coronavirus testing because people without COVID-19 symptoms are seeking tests.
Demand for tests has risen in recent weeks as the country has recorded a sharp increase in coronavirus infections. The National Health Service chief in charge of testing on Tuesday apologized for widespread reports of people with coronavirus symptoms being told there was not enough capacity, in some cases being pointed to testing sites hundreds of miles away.
Sarah-Jane Marsh, the director of the NHS Test and Trace program, said laboratories that processed the test results were short of capacity and added that officials were doing “all we can to expand quickly.”
But Hancock on Wednesday insisted the test-and-trace system was “excellent” and said the British public was instead responsible because people who were “ineligible” for tests were seeking them.
“The problem we’ve got is that in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of people applying for test, getting a test, who are not eligible,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program.
“What I’m telling you is the reason we have constraint at the moment is not because capacity has gone down. Far from it — capacity has gone up. It is that we’ve suddenly seen this rise in demand of people who are not eligible.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary, John Ashworth, criticized Hancock for attempting to shift the blame onto the public.
“It beggars belief that after weeks of encouraging people to have a test if feeling unwell, ministers are seeking to blame people for simply doing what they were advised,” he said in a statement.
“With children returning to school and thousands returning to the office it’s obvious extra testing capacity would be needed. The fact ministers failed to plan is yet more staggering incompetence.”
The UK recorded 2,420 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, which did not include figures from Northern Ireland, and the rate of weekly infections is increasing significantly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced a ban on most social gatherings of more than six people, and further measures to contain the virus are being introduced in many parts of the UK where the infection rates are highest.
One council leader in Bolton, England, where infection rates soared last week, warned that the virus was “moving round uncontrolled” in the area. Households have been barred from mixing in outdoor public settings there.
Johnson is expected to hold a press conference this week urging young people — among whom most new infections are occurring — to observe social-distancing measures more carefully.
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