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Government promises new labs as coronavirus testing slower than ever

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government promises new labs as coronavirus testing slower than ever

A staggering 98 per cent of people taking home coronavirus tests do not get their result within 24 hours, data showed today as Boris Johnson’s target of turning all tests around within a day slips further out of reach.

The home test kits are the second most used testing route but also the slowest, statistics reveal in a week that has seen the testing system dramatically unravel.

Admitting it doesn’t have the lab capacity to cope with the more than 200,000 swabs being completed each day, the Government is facing down the barrel of catastrophe and has failed to diagnose any cases of Covid-19 since Monday in England’s worst-affected areas. 

In a bid to stem the flow of bad news the Department of Health has this morning promised to set up two new major ‘Lighthouse Labs’ in Newcastle and Bracknell in Berkshire to help cope with mounting demand for swabs.

People all over the country report not being able to get tests and some drive-in sites stand empty while other centres are overloaded and turning people away. 

NHS Test & Trace weekly data – from between September 3 and September 9 – show more people than ever are now waiting for days to get coronavirus tests results, left in limbo and fearing for their health as labs scramble to process record numbers of samples. 

Testing turnaround also faltered in all other situations, with drive-in regional testing centres managing to return only 38 per cent within 24 hours and two thirds (64.7 per cent) getting their results the day after the test.   

Data from the testing system has also confirmed that cases are on the rise – 18,371 people were diagnosed in the first week of September, up 75 per cent from 10,489 a week before and a 167 per cent rise in a fortnight.

It comes as the Prime Minister yesterday admitted that Britain doesn’t have the capacity to carry out the number of coronavirus tests it needs to and he today warned that the nation is approaching a ‘second hump’ of cases of the disease.

The median time taken for people to receive test results has soared for the most common testing routes in recent weeks – between September 3 and 9, satellite tests and home testing accounted for more than 500,000 out of 876,000 tests (Median is a middle-point, with half of people waiting long and half of people waiting for a shorter time)

The median time taken for people to receive test results has soared for the most common testing routes in recent weeks – between September 3 and 9, satellite tests and home testing accounted for more than 500,000 out of 876,000 tests (Median is a middle-point, with half of people waiting long and half of people waiting for a shorter time)

The median time taken for people to receive test results has soared for the most common testing routes in recent weeks – between September 3 and 9, satellite tests and home testing accounted for more than 500,000 out of 876,000 tests (Median is a middle-point, with half of people waiting long and half of people waiting for a shorter time)

Data from the testing system has also confirmed that cases are on the rise – 18,371 people were diagnosed in the first week of September, up 75 per cent from 10,489 a week before and a 167 per cent rise in a fortnight

Data from the testing system has also confirmed that cases are on the rise – 18,371 people were diagnosed in the first week of September, up 75 per cent from 10,489 a week before and a 167 per cent rise in a fortnight

Data from the testing system has also confirmed that cases are on the rise – 18,371 people were diagnosed in the first week of September, up 75 per cent from 10,489 a week before and a 167 per cent rise in a fortnight

33296932 8739543 image a 35 1600341288631

33296932 8739543 image a 35 1600341288631

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that all coronavirus test results would be turned around within 24 hours by the end of June but that target is now further away than it has ever been

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that all coronavirus test results would be turned around within 24 hours by the end of June but that target is now further away than it has ever been

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that all coronavirus test results would be turned around within 24 hours by the end of June but that target is now further away than it has ever been

In data analysis published yesterday, academics revealed that, as of September 15, only nine per cent of Britons testing positive for coronavirus were finding out within two days of taking a test.

Professor Alastair Grant, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia, crunched the data published on the national testing dashboard.

He revealed that until the end of August around 70 per cent of positive tests were reported within two days, but the rate has been ‘falling steadily’ ever since and dropped to just nine per cent on Tuesday, September 15.

Another 40 per cent of tests on that day were from swabs taken at least four days earlier, according to his report. It has not been verified by fellow experts.

Writing in his number-crunching article, Professor Grant claimed: ‘The problems seem to be a consequence of the laboratories that process the tests reaching capacity.

‘Backlogs of unprocessed samples are building up, and limits are being placed on the number of testing slots made available to try to control this.’

Experts say getting test results fast and carrying out contact tracing immediately is vital to stopping the spread of coronavirus because there is only a short window to alert people that they are at risk of infecting others without yet knowing they’re ill.  

Britain’s coronavirus testing system is crumbling despite doing fewer tests each day than the Department of Health claims it is capable of.

Official data show that on September 14, the most recent numbers available, testing labs processed 30,000 fewer tests than they could have done.

Despite this, hundreds of people across England are unable to book testing appointments and others are being directed to centres hundreds of miles from home.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock claims demand for tests is soaring but his department has refused to reveal how many people are trying to get swabs.

The number of people actually getting tested has gone up by 23 per cent since the end of August while capacity has increased by 12 per cent but never been matched.

Capacity has risen roughly in line with the number of tests being done and there are now more tests being done each day than would have been possible even a week ago. Scientists are starting to doubt whether the system can really process as many as health chiefs say it can.

And as the Government begins to ration tests to the worst-hit parts of the countries, testing centres are seen deserted in some places but with people queuing down the street outside others.

Sodexo, which runs the centres, has posted job adverts for people to staff the drive- and walk-in sites as the UK scrambles to prepare for surging numbers of cases as infections are now on the rise in people of all age groups in England.

Labour MPs have called the testing fiasco a ‘farce’ and ‘unacceptable’, while scientists admit they are seriously concerned that the Government hasn’t prepared for what they’ve known for months would eventually happen.

Coronavirus testing centres have been pictured empty today despite hundreds of people saying they cannot book an appointment online. Meanwhile the company that runs them, Sodexo, is recruiting more staff and officials will say only that they are diverting capacity to badly-hit areas (Pictured: A test site in Leeds)

Coronavirus testing centres have been pictured empty today despite hundreds of people saying they cannot book an appointment online. Meanwhile the company that runs them, Sodexo, is recruiting more staff and officials will say only that they are diverting capacity to badly-hit areas (Pictured: A test site in Leeds)

Coronavirus testing centres have been pictured empty today despite hundreds of people saying they cannot book an appointment online. Meanwhile the company that runs them, Sodexo, is recruiting more staff and officials will say only that they are diverting capacity to badly-hit areas (Pictured: A test site in Leeds) 

Testing sites were pictured empty this week after Matt Hancock said it was time to ‘prioritise’ coronavirus testing, meaning it is now rationed to badly affected areas.

As a result, people in many areas are unable to get tested. While some are directed to centres a long way from home, others have been denied access altogether.  

Mr Hancock yesterday admitted there is a backlog of tests worth up to a day’s lab processing capacity, which is now equal to almost 250,000 tests.

But experts aren’t convinced the capacity figure is a true reflection of what the system can handle.  

Professor Alan McNally, a geneticist at the University of Birmingham who helped set up a Government lab in Milton Keynes, told BBC Breakfast yesterday there were ‘clearly underlying issues which nobody wants to tell us about’.

He said: ‘I think there is a surge in demand [and] I think our stated capacity is very different from actually how many tests can be run in a given day.’   

Dr Joshua Moon, from the University of Sussex Business School, added: ‘One of the deeper issues is why we are seeing an acute shortage when total tests per day currently sit at two thirds of the government’s claimed testing capacity. 

‘I am particularly worried about why the claimed capacity was so much higher than it actually was. 

‘Without proper understanding of the system’s capacity, there is a fundamental weakness in ability to plan for the future.’

The current lab capacity for diagnostic tests, as claimed by the Department of Health on September 10, is a maximum of 243,817 per day.

But the system has never come close to hitting this but is still in such a sticky situation, with a backlog, that people are being denied tests even in some of the country’s hotspots, such as Bolton and Pendle in Lancashire.

Since capacity hit that figure on September 8 there have been an average of 214,656 tests done each day, topping out at 238,640 on September 12.

In total, the Government claims it can handle 374,917 tests per day but many of these antibody blood tests which are not used for diagnosing people with the disease, but for surveillance. 

When pressed on why the testing system is rejecting people and sending them absurd distances cross-country to get tests, officials have blamed lab capacity.

Although the system is operating at below-maximum capacity, they claim there is surging demand piling pressure on the processing chain – even though it appears much of this demand is never realised because people are denied the tests. 

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DAN HODGES: Why Dishy Rishi is turning into Ruthless Rishi, the Iron Chancellor

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dan hodges why dishy rishi is turning into ruthless rishi the iron chancellor

Dishy Rishi is about to be put on furlough. ‘People have lost perspective,’ an ally of the Chancellor tells me. 

‘We’ve spent £350billion protecting the economy, but we’ve now reached the point where this isn’t even registering.

‘Someone said to him last week, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything for the theatre?’ We’ve given the theatres £1.6billion. Things are going to have to change.’

As Covid threatens to plunge Britain into a double-dip lockdown, Sunak is only too aware he cannot simply turn off the spending taps. 

But over the past few weeks, he’s become increasingly concerned that the country – and even some of his own colleagues – have started to believe there is an unlimited supply of public cash to be thrown at the coronavirus crisis.

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33385950 8751789 image m 17 1600561990652

As Covid threatens to plunge Britain into a double-dip lockdown, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is only too aware he cannot simply turn off the spending taps

‘We can’t chuck people to the wolves,’ a Minister explains, ‘but everyone is going to have to start to realise that over the medium term this sort of spending can’t continue. It’s not economically sustainable and it’s not politically sustainable.’

So as he prepares for a combined autumn Budget and spending review, Dishy Rishi is set to be replaced by Ruthless Rishi.

The Government will continue to provide support. But, as an ally frames it: ‘We’re going to get back to a situation where every pound we spend is going to have to be replaced somewhere else.’

To reassert fiscal prudence, Sunak had been eyeing the ‘triple lock’ on pensions introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. But I understand Boris Johnson has baulked at unpicking such a totemic policy commitment.

So instead he will be looking for other significant – and politically explosive – savings. First there will be a major squeeze on public-sector pay.

‘It just wouldn’t be right if 16 per cent of the workforce were seeing big pay increases just at the time when everyone else in the economy is having to tighten their belts,’ a Minister explains.

There will also be a freeze on welfare. Ministers have been working on a worst-case scenario of four million unemployed as the existing levels of support for businesses and workers begins to unwind.

Some remain hopeful that a jobs apocalypse on this scale can be averted.

But they believe that whatever final toll Covid wreaks on employment, there is no scope – or public appetite – for an uprating of individual benefits.

And I’m told there’s significant Treasury pushback on Boris’s cherished Operation Moonshot – or Operation Moonf***, as some of the more hard-bitten Treasury civil servants have started branding it.

The Chancellor is said to be supportive of investment on health measures that can get Britain safely back to work.

But he is resisting releasing huge amounts of public money on what could turn out to be nothing more than a bottomless petri dish, until tried and tested technology is available to support the programme.

The Chancellor believes what is needed is an end to Covid-inspired fiscal complacency. Dishy Rishi has been sent home. It's now Ruthless Rishi who's sitting behind the Chancellor's desk

The Chancellor believes what is needed is an end to Covid-inspired fiscal complacency. Dishy Rishi has been sent home. It's now Ruthless Rishi who's sitting behind the Chancellor's desk

The Chancellor believes what is needed is an end to Covid-inspired fiscal complacency. Dishy Rishi has been sent home. It’s now Ruthless Rishi who’s sitting behind the Chancellor’s desk

Over the past few months, Sunak’s growing legion of fans on the Tory backbenches have come to view him as something of a fiscal magician – a swirl of the cape and flourish of the wand, and their constituents’ problems vanish in a puff of smoke.

But even though he is aware there will inevitably be damage to his personal brand, he is said by friends to have decided it’s time to present his colleagues with some harsh economic truths.

‘This Dishy Rishi stuff has got a bit out of hand,’ an ally concedes. ‘We’re facing a serious crisis. And were going to need to introduce a note of reality into all this.’

This chimes in part with the Chancellor’s own personal ideology. As a 15-year-old, he used to do the accounts in his mother’s pharmacy. ‘He’s been balancing the books since he was a teenager,’ says a friend.

He also spent the summer flicking through Nigel Lawson’s memoirs.

‘He tells me he’s a Lawsonian,’ one MP tells me. ‘He’s very hot on fiscal responsibility.’

An example of this is Sunak’s growing alarm at the UK’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which now exceeds 100 per cent.

‘Rishi is very, very worried about how vulnerable this makes us to even small variations in interest rates,’ a Minister reveals. ‘He thinks we’re in a very precarious position.’

But there is also a political calculation behind the Chancellor’s desire to damp down expectations that Britain can painlessly spend its way out of the Covid crisis.

Sunak is one of a growing number of Tory MPs who are becoming worried there is insufficient ‘blue water’ between them and Keir Starmer’s increasingly effective Labour Opposition.

‘There is not enough fiscal demarcation between us and Starmer,’ a Sunak supporter says. ‘We’re Conservatives. We’re going to have to draw a much clearer line between ourselves and Labour on the economy and spending.’

All of which is why Sunak has begun a major charm offensive of Tory backbenchers.

Sunak had been eyeing the 'triple lock' on pensions introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. But Boris Johnson has baulked at unpicking such a totemic policy commitment

Sunak had been eyeing the 'triple lock' on pensions introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. But Boris Johnson has baulked at unpicking such a totemic policy commitment

Sunak had been eyeing the ‘triple lock’ on pensions introduced by David Cameron and George Osborne. But Boris Johnson has baulked at unpicking such a totemic policy commitment

Last week saw the growing discontent at Boris’s faltering leadership explode into open revolt over the statement that No 10 was preparing to break international law to kick-start the Brexit negotiations. 

‘I don’t mind dying in the ditch over Brexit,’ one exasperated MP tells me, ‘but I do expect No 10 to at least dig me the ditch before the bullets start flying.’

Rishi Sunak is going to spend the next few weeks rolling up his sleeves, and digging in with his colleagues.

He knows that hard times are coming. That the crushing burden of Covid-19 on the UK economy can no longer be resisted by one-off loans and eye-catching restaurant discounts. And that when economic gravity finally reasserts itself, there will be a political backlash.

Some of his opponents think there is no place for him to hide.

‘We don’t think we’ll be fighting Boris at the next Election,’ one of Keir Starmer’s aides told me a few weeks ago, ‘but I’m not sure we’re going to be facing Rishi either. He’s very popular now, but let’s see how popular he is when the furlough scheme is taken away.’

But it isn’t popularity the Chancellor craves at the moment. He believes what is needed is an end to Covid-inspired fiscal complacency.

Dishy Rishi has been sent home. It’s now Ruthless Rishi who’s sitting behind the Chancellor’s desk.

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Senior Tories plot ‘Parliamentary lock’ to subject Covid emergency measures to a vote by MPs

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senior tories plot parliamentary lock to subject covid emergency measures to a vote by mps

Senior Tories are planning a parliamentary lock to prevent Boris Johnson having the final say on new lockdown measures, according to The Sunday Telegraph

Altrincham and Sale West MP Sir Graham Brady is planning to table an amendment that would force ministers to put any new measures to a vote first.

MPs will vote next week on reauthorising the government’s use of such emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Sir Graham Brady (centre) is looking to force a vote by MPs on emergency coronavirus measures amid concerns that restrictions on the public's freedom are being imposed without parliamentary scrutiny. Senior Tory MPs are said to be angry that they are not able to debate new measures, such as the Rule of Six and £1000 fines for flouting self-isolation, which takes effect next week. Brady said there was 'no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes' now parliament is in session (file photo).

Sir Graham Brady (centre) is looking to force a vote by MPs on emergency coronavirus measures amid concerns that restrictions on the public's freedom are being imposed without parliamentary scrutiny. Senior Tory MPs are said to be angry that they are not able to debate new measures, such as the Rule of Six and £1000 fines for flouting self-isolation, which takes effect next week. Brady said there was 'no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes' now parliament is in session (file photo).

Sir Graham Brady (centre) is looking to force a vote by MPs on emergency coronavirus measures amid concerns that restrictions on the public’s freedom are being imposed without parliamentary scrutiny. Senior Tory MPs are said to be angry that they are not able to debate new measures, such as the Rule of Six and £1000 fines for flouting self-isolation, which takes effect next week. Brady said there was ‘no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes’ now parliament is in session (file photo).

A Downing Street spokesman told The Telegraph: ‘It’s absolutely vital that MPs are engaged in this process as these decisions will have a huge impact on them and their constituents and we will continue to discuss these plans with all MPs.’

But some senior Tory MPs are angry about new restrictions on the public’s freedom, such as the Rule of Six, being introduced without a debate in the Commons.

Drinkers are seen out on the town in Nottingham on Saturday. Fears of a second wave of coronavirus have prompted Boris Johnson to institute harsh new rules to limit the virus' spread. But some in his party are displeased with changes that they feel unfairly restrict the freedom of their constituents.

Drinkers are seen out on the town in Nottingham on Saturday. Fears of a second wave of coronavirus have prompted Boris Johnson to institute harsh new rules to limit the virus' spread. But some in his party are displeased with changes that they feel unfairly restrict the freedom of their constituents.

Drinkers are seen out on the town in Nottingham on Saturday. Fears of a second wave of coronavirus have prompted Boris Johnson to institute harsh new rules to limit the virus’ spread. But some in his party are displeased with changes that they feel unfairly restrict the freedom of their constituents.

Fines of up to £1000 for breaching self-isolation were also approved without parliamentary scrutiny.

Sir Brady, who is chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said that parliament has been sitting since April.

‘There is now no justification for ministers ruling by emergency powers without reference to normal democratic processes.’ 
 

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Parliamentary staff write poems about their privilege after Black Lives Matter protests

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parliamentary staff write poems about their privilege after black lives matter protests

Parliamentary staff have been urged to admit their ‘privilege’ through an online platform that has been set up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

Officials have reportedly been issued with an ‘inclusivity toolkit’ by senior figures which encourages white workers to acknowledge their ‘internalised racism’.

The digital wall was set up by Parliament’s diversity group Parli-REACH for staff to profess their privilege, write poetry and give their ‘support’ for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues, according to the Telegraph.

Parliamentary staff have reportedly been urged to admit their 'privilege' on a new digital wall set up by Parliament's diversity group Parli-REACH

Parliamentary staff have reportedly been urged to admit their 'privilege' on a new digital wall set up by Parliament's diversity group Parli-REACH

Parliamentary staff have reportedly been urged to admit their ‘privilege’ on a new digital wall set up by Parliament’s diversity group Parli-REACH

After the Edward Colston statue was toppled in Bristol in June (above), parliamentary staff were given advice on expressing support for Black Lives Matter protests

After the Edward Colston statue was toppled in Bristol in June (above), parliamentary staff were given advice on expressing support for Black Lives Matter protests

After the Edward Colston statue was toppled in Bristol in June (above), parliamentary staff were given advice on expressing support for Black Lives Matter protests

This comes soon after staff were given advice on how to support Black Lives Matter protests, such as ‘attending protests and social media use’, after Edward Colston’s statue was pulled down in Bristol in June.

Messages posted on the digital ‘solidarity and support’ wall include one woman saying: ‘As a white woman I acknowledge my privilege and continue to educate myself.’

One person posted on the platform arguing that staff could no longer watch American comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars Andy Samberg, because it sold a ‘cosy lie’ about policing.

And another wrote that ‘as a white man I am conscious of the privilege I have’, the Telegraph reported.

One person said that staff could no longer watch American comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars Andy Samberg, because it sold a 'cosy lie' about policing

One person said that staff could no longer watch American comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars Andy Samberg, because it sold a 'cosy lie' about policing

One person said that staff could no longer watch American comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which stars Andy Samberg, because it sold a ‘cosy lie’ about policing

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33384126 8751573 image a 2 1600557018480

House of Commons staff leaders have reportedly promised that the death of George Floyd would be a ‘catalyst for change’ in Parliament

But the admissions have been described as ‘divisive’ by some MPs, who are calling for a review of public institutions.

Tory MPs Danny Kruger and Miram Caters told the Telegraph that a ‘woke consensus’ has ‘taken hold’ of ‘parts of Whitehall’, warning the party not to ‘pander’ to its supporters with policy.

Documents obtained by the Telegraph reportedly show the House of Commons staff leaders promising that George Floyd’s death in May would be a ‘catalyst for change’ in Parliament.

It was also revealed that new unconscious bias training and more online resources have been given out to staff, including the new digital wall.  

A Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, 46, for nearly nine minutes and his death has led to global protests against racism, colonialism and police brutality.

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