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Labour demands MORE coronavirus tests for NHS staff as celebrities buy £375 private checks


Row over testing

WHAT IS THE UK DOING NOW?

Around 5,000 tests are being carried out a day. 

Those are mostly patients who are already in hospital. 

Some 100 GP surgeries have agrees to carry out tests on patients, as part of surveillance to asses the prevalence. 

However, those who feel they have symptoms are being told to self-isolate without being routinely tested.

WHAT IS THE UK GOING TO DO?

Boris Johnson has vowed to increase tests to 25,000 a day, although he did not give a timescale.

He also said that health workers will be prioritised. Many have complained that they are being forced to stop work as they are unsure whether or not they have the disease.

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?

The message from the World Health Organisation is ‘test test test’, to avoid trying to fight an outbreak ‘blindfolded’. South Korea says it has got on top of an outbreak with stringent testing. 

Boris Johnson finally vowed a dramatic escalation of the UK’s coronavirus testing capacity today amid warnings that the country cannot fight the epidemic ‘blindfolded’.

The PM said the number of tests a day will be increased from the current level of around 5,000 to 25,000, and NHS staff will be prioritised.

However, the full ‘surge capacity’ at Public Health England and in health service laboratories might not be ready for another four week. 

At this point the government is still only planning to test patients in hospitals – although the government has urged medical companies to help ‘rapidly’ develop a swab test that can be used in the community. 

The announcement came amid mounting alarm about the level of screening, with fury that NHS workers are being forced to self-isolate because they are unsure whether they have the disease or not.  

Meanwhile, there are claims that celebrities have been paying for kits to check themselves at home.

The developments came as the number of people positively diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK hit 2,626, up from 1,950 yesterday.

A total of 56,221 people now have been tested.

Representatives from US firm ThermoFisher ere seen entering Downing Street last night carrying a box with a testing kit. It is understood they were giving a demonstration of how the four-hour test, which has been approved in the US, works.

Roche, Boots, and Amazon were also at the meeting with Mr Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock in No10, as well as Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. 

At PMQs in the Commons, Mr Johnson insisted that the UK was already carrying out more tests that other ‘comparable’ countries. Some 44,000 have been conducted in total so far.  

‘This country is actually far ahead of many other comparable countries. We are increasing our tests from 5,000 to 10,000 a day,’ he said.

He added later: ‘We are moving up to 25,000 a day.’ 

However, Jeremy Corbyn demanded an increase on an ‘industrial scale’ – pointing to the advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has been highly critical of the move to tell people with symptoms to isolate at home, without being diagnosed. 

The PM said the number of tests a day will be increased from the current level of around 5,000 to 25,000, and NHS staff will be prioritised

Two men wearing suits were pictured carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – outside Downing Street last night

Two men wearing suits were pictured carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – outside Downing Street last night

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, in exchange for £375

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, in exchange for £375

WHAT TEST IS THE UK CURRENTLY USING TO SWAB PATIENTS FOR CORONAVIRUS? 

Public Health England has not revealed which tests it is using to swab thousands of patients for the killer coronavirus.

But in a blog on its website, it suggests it just uses one – which takes a sample from a suspected patient’s nose and throat.

It says PHE’s diagnostic test was rolled out to 12 laboratories across the UK, who all increased their working output to analyse samples for 12 hours every day of the week. But patients are left in limbo for between 24 and 72 hours waiting for their test results to come back.

But health officials revealed last week that NHS hospital laboratories would soon start testing people to ease the strain on PHE, allowing them to conduct tests on-site without having to send samples away.

The Government yesterday ordered thousands of testing kits from the French-based firm Novacyt, in a deal worth £3.7million. 

But it is understood they are for hospital use only – even though NHS staff across the UK have already warned that facilities are swamped.

The company was an early mover in developing a test and is now supplying more than 60 countries. MailOnline has asked PHE to clarify which tests it uses.  

Last week US health bosses granted the emergency use of two tests in a desperate attempt to keep track of America’s escalating crisis. 

One of the diagnostic tools was made by Massachusetts-based firm Thermo Fisher Scientific. It can give results in four hours. 

Two men wearing suits were pictured carrying a box from ThermoFisher outside Downing Street yesterday. 

It is undersood they were going in to demonstrate the kit at a meeting.

The government has come under heavy fire over the speed with which the testing regime has been bolstered.  

The number of checks per day is not expected to hit 10,000 until next week. 

But ministers believe that a radical expansion could soon see the total number exceed that in China, which has carried out around 220,000 altogether.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Public safety is my top priority, and radically ramping up testing for coronavirus is a key part of our plan to protect lives. We are already among the best in the world for coronavirus testing and today we are launching a national effort to increase our testing capability even further.

‘Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness. We will always do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice, and will do whatever it takes to protect life.’

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance admitted yesterday that the tests must be ‘ramped up’. 

‘That clearly is not going to be enough going forward,’ he told MPs.

‘We really do need to get our testing in the right place to ensure we can monitor this effectively…

‘There is a very big effort going on to try to ramp that up.’

It is not clear the extent to which the number of tests is an issue, or whether the issue is the capacity of Public Health England (PHE) to carry them out.  

The Government has been at pains to say that it is testing more people than the majority of other states with coronavirus. But it is still far below the number being tested by nations like South Korea

Last night men carrying a box from ThermoFisher – which makes coronavirus tests that give results in four hours – were pictured in Downing Street.   

Celebrities and big businesses have begun paying out for a £375-a-time home-testing kit being sold by a private clinic, according to the Telegraph.

PrivateHarleyStreetClinic.com says it can get a test to your home within 48 hours, boasting:  At present, the NHS is only offering testing for coronavirus to hospitalised patients. 

‘We have been inundated with requests to provide a private test. 

‘We can now confirm we are able to offer paid tests, via a postal courier service on a maximum 3 day turnaround service to private individuals and organisations.

‘Most importantly, this is the only test in the world that can identify the lethal Covid-19 virus and differentiate between 9 other non lethal viruses with the same symptoms.’ 

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Our NHS staff are battling to protect us, government must protect them: From goggles, gowns, gloves, masks and thermometers we need adequate PPE for all staff across secondary & primary care. 

‘Testing must be scaled up urgently for staff.’ 

Mr Ashworth added: ‘This is a national effort and all of us must pull together. 

‘We have to urgently ramp up testing especially for our NHS staff. 

‘If this Harley Street clinic has testing capacity then government needs to get hold of it for NHS staff.’

At PMQs, Mr Corbyn said: ‘The World Health Organisation said test, test, test and we should be testing, I believe, on an industrial scale.’

He said 10,000 tests per day is ‘nowhere near even the number of people working in the NHS and the care sector’ and demanded a ‘greater sense of urgency’.

Testing stopped virus in Italian town 

Italian authorities have managed to contain the killer coronavirus outbreak in a small town near Venice through a rigorous testing strategy.

Health bosses in Vò – 45miles (72km) east of the tourist hotspot – have had no new cases for 48 hours.

Officials conducted an experiment in the town, which is home to 3,300 people, to test and re-test all inhabitants.

The Financial Times reports the strategy meant everyone would be tested – even if they showed no symptoms.

Andrea Crisanti, an infectious disease specialist taking part in the experiment, told the newspaper the method allowed officials to get the clearest picture about the size of the outbreak.

The experiment began at the end of February, and the initial roll-out of tests showed around three per cent of patients were infected.

This dropped ten-fold when the second testing round was carried out 10 days later, after quarantining all of the infected and their contacts.

Professor Crisanti, who is on a sabbatical at the University of Padua, said: ‘In the UK, there are a whole lot of infections that are completely ignored.

‘We were able to contain the outbreak [in Vò] because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them. This is what makes the difference.

 

Mr Johnson replied: ‘Well in point of fact, we are prioritising testing of NHS staff for the obvious reason that we want them to be able to look after everybody else with confidence that they’re not transmitting the disease and this country is actually far ahead of many other comparable countries in testing huge numbers of people.’

Mr Johnson rejected the criticism, and stressed the importance of a separate test for whether people have previously been infected with coronavirus.

‘We are getting much closer to having a generally available test which will determine whether or not you have had the disease and that will truly be of huge benefit to this country in tackling the outbreak,’ he said.

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, an A&E doctor, demanded to know why ‘mass testing’ was taking so long.

‘We are in unprecedented times. I would like to know where was the forward-planning for PPE for our NHS and care staff? Where is the testing for medics? Why are we waiting so long for mass testing? And why are social distancing measures merely just suggestions?’ she said.

Mr Johnson thanked the Tooting MP for her work in the health service, adding: ‘We have stockpiles of PPE equipment and we’re proceeding in accordance with the best scientific advice.

‘It is the timeliness of those measures that is absolutely vital in combating the spread of the epidemic. That is how you save lives.’

Around 86 per cent of coronavirus patients go undetected because their symptoms are so mild, a study warned last night. 

Scientists at Columbia University in New York analysed the spread of the infection in China, before the outbreak spiralled out of control. 

The researchers found the thousands of undocumented infections drove the spread of the crisis, which saw most of China locked down. 

Italian authorities have managed to contain the killer coronavirus outbreak in a small town near Venice through a rigorous testing strategy.

Health bosses in Vò – 45miles (72km) east of the tourist hotspot – have had no new cases for 48 hours.

Officials conducted an experiment in the town, which is home to 3,300 people, to test and re-test all inhabitants.

The Financial Times reports the strategy meant everyone would be tested – even if they showed no symptoms.

Andrea Crisanti, an infectious disease specialist taking part in the experiment, told the newspaper the method allowed officials to get the clearest picture about the size of the outbreak.

The experiment began at the end of February, and the initial roll-out of tests showed around three per cent of patients were infected.

This dropped ten-fold when the second testing round was carried out 10 days later, after quarantining all of the infected and their contacts.

WHO warns lack of tests means fighting disease ‘blindolded’ 

Earlier this week the World Health Organisation criticised countries that have given up on routinely testing all suspected coronavirus patients.

The UN agency’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom, warned the pandemic won’t be stopped if officials don’t know who is infected.

In a startling warning to the UK – which only tests patients in hospital and through routine surveillance by GPs, he added: ‘You cannot fight a fire blindfolded.’  

Almost 175,000 cases of the coronavirus have been identified worldwide, with 6,500 deaths recorded on every continent except Antarctica. 

Professor Crisanti, who is on a sabbatical at the University of Padua, said: ‘In the UK, there are a whole lot of infections that are completely ignored.

‘We were able to contain the outbreak [in Vò] because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them. This is what makes the difference.

It comes after Sir Patrick suggested around 70,000 Britons – or roughly one in every 1,000 out of the 68million population – could unknowingly be infected with the virus.

He claimed for every death in Britain – 71 have been announced so far – there is likely to be 1,000 positive cases. 

 Addressing MPs yesterday he said the UK needed ‘a big increase in testing’ because 4,000 a day was ‘clearly not going to be enough’. 

 ‘We simply don’t have the mass testing available for the population now,’ he told the Health Select Committee.

‘There is a big effort going on to get that in place as quickly as possible.’

Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that healthcare staff 'battling to protect us' from the panic were being exposed by a shortage of testing kits and a lack of protective equipment'

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that healthcare staff ‘battling to protect us’ from the panic were being exposed by a shortage of testing kits and a lack of protective equipment’

WHAT ARE OTHER COUNTRIES DOING? 

South Korea

South Korea has the capacity to test around 20,000 people each day – more than any other country in the world. 

Officials gave permission to four companies to make kits, with the country desperate to stop the killer virus spreading. It also uses drive-through testing centres.

Figures show the country has now tested up to 300,000 residents, at a rate of 5,000 per 1million inhabitants, according to reports.

In contrast, the rate in Britain is around seven times lower – at just 700 per 1million, MailOnline can reveal. 

South Korea’s outbreak – which has seen almost 8,500 cases and fewer than 100 deaths – has curtailed in the past week.

Fewer than 100 patients are being diagnosed each day, which leading scientists say is because of the country’s rigorous testing programme.

Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist based at Korea University, told Science magazine: ‘Lab testing is essential to control an emerging infectious disease.’

China

The coronavirus crisis began in China at the end of December, and saw hundreds of millions of people locked down in a desperate attempt to contain the crisis.

But World Health Organization experts said it was Beijing’s decision to test all suspected cases and then isolate their contacts was more important than the country-wide quarantines.

The UN agency’s assistant director general Bruce Aylward told New Scientist testing ‘stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns’.

More than 80,000 COVID-19 cases were confirmed in China and at least 3,000 patients died of the infection. 

Italy

Italy is at the centre of Europe’s ever-growing coronavirus outbreak, with more than 31,000 confirmed cases and at least 2,500 deaths. 

At the beginning of the spiralling crisis at the end of February, health officials tried to test every suspected case.  

Virologists praised the approach, saying the strategy of ‘over-testing’ was ‘right and sensible’. Around 130,000 people have already been tested in Italy.

Authorities have already managed to completely halt the outbreak in one small town near Venice because of the rigorous approach. 

The Financial Times reports that Vò – 45miles (72km) east of the tourist hotspot, has had no new cases for 48 hours. 

And the outbreak in Lombardy, the northern Italian region that has suffered the most from the deadly infection, is slowing down, officials say.

The US

At the other end of the scale, the US has repeatedly been criticised for not testing enough people – with around 50,000 tests carried out so far. 

Some states, such as Alabama and Delaware, have swabbed fewer than 100 people, according to an independent tracker.

President Donald Trump has declared a national state of emergency and announced additional measures to expand testing.

Now, all US states can make, validate and use their own tests rather than wait for the approval of the FDA – the US regulatory body.

Health and state officials have widely blamed the testing shortage for the steep rise in US cases.

They say it both delayed public knowledge of just how many cases there were and allowed the disease to continue to spread from unwitting carriers.



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