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Nearly 20,000 available coronavirus tests are going unused in the UK every day, according to the government’s own figures – despite urgent calls from the care sector and firefighters for more swabs.
Downing Street said on Thursday the UK now has the capacity to conduct 35,000 coronavirus tests a day – but fewer than half that number are currently being carried out.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said that, in the 24 hours up to 9am on Wednesday, 15,994 tests were carried out across England, Scotland and Wales. Several hundred more will have been conducted in Northern Ireland, which does not report exact figures.
“We have been very clear that, where there is spare capacity available, that should be used on NHS staff, on their families, and in social care,” the spokesperson said.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, on Wednesday claimed the reason that the figures on the number of tests done had been flat over the weekend was “because of not enough demand, rather than not enough capacity”.
No.10 said on Thursday that, of the tests conducted in the 24 hours up to 9am, 13,950 were carried out by NHS England, Public Health England and the devolved administrations.
A further 2,040 were conducted at drive-through sites for NHS staff and their families.
Total testing capacity, the government claims, includes 20,771 in public facilities and a further 14,300 through commercial testing facilities.
Yet thousands of key workers – including medics – have been stuck in quarantine and unable to work without the all-clear.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned that almost 3,000 fire and rescue staff are currently in self-isolation because of a “fiasco” in testing, arguing that only a “fraction” of those unable to work because of their symptoms are likely to have the virus.
Demanding urgent testing for firefighters, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “If we aren’t able to find out exactly who is infected, and more staff isolate unnecessarily, services will be put on a dangerous knife-edge.”
The gap between the UK’s actual daily testing rate and its claims of increasing capacity comes amid questions about whether the government will be able to hit its target of 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day by the end of April.
The government has missed its aim to complete 25,000 tests a day by mid-April.
But ministers remain adamant the UK is on track to meet its 100,000-a-day target for the end of the month.
The Department of Health and Social Care has not responded to HuffPost UK’s request for comment.