Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school 1

Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school

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Britain’s testing crisis was made even worse after the sole firm tasked with deliveries to pharmacies ‘closed down for Christmas’ after receiving 2.5m packs – as a Government minister today suggested people struggling to get kits online should simply ‘refresh their webpage’.

Britons trying get hold of lateral flows ahead of the nation returning to work tomorrow and schools going back after the Christmas break have struggled to get hold of tests in recent days, with pharmacies still out of stock and sporadic availability online.  

It emerged today that Alliance Healthcare, the firm that supplies pharmacies with LFTs to hand out to members of the public who come in with codes, took delivery of millions of tests on Christmas Eve and then shut. 

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And after millions reported not being able to order tests for delivery online, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi today said people ‘should just refresh’ their webpage to get hold of them.

It has also emerged that EBay profiteers have been cashing in on the crisis by selling packs of seven NHS tests for £100 on the eve of the nation heading back to work and schools reopening. Availability may be hit over the next few days, after pupils were told to test before returning to the classroom, and two to three times a week to slow the spread of Omicron.

The ongoing shortage of lateral flow tests and predicted staff absences due to isolation caused by positive results has led to unions predicting disruption ‘looks sadly inevitable’ through January.   

Pharmacists have told how they have been verbally abused after they ran out of tests in the run up to Christmas and New Year. They have blamed Alliance Healthcare for the abuse after they ‘closed down for Christmas’.

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Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, told The Times: ‘Why on earth did the government not prepare for this and ensure alternative options for delivery were secured? The government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to England’s supply of Covid tests.’   

Pharmacists are up in arms that only Alliance Healthcare was given the contract to deliver the tests, which were ‘patchy and inconsistent’ from Christmas Eve.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said: ‘Two or three weeks ago, I wrote to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), and I said to them, ‘Look, demand is getting really high and we are getting bombarded by requests about this. You have only given it to one wholesaler to deliver, which obviously makes it difficult [compared with] if you have several people involved; several depots, warehouses around the country, and vans and all that pushing … stock around. Obviously that makes more sense [than] having just one wholesaler.’ I never got a response back.’     

Millions of people have been struggling to get LFTs online - but some have trying to sell the packs given them to free by the Government, all paid for by the taxpayer

Profiteers are selling NHS lateral flow kits on eBay for £100 for seven as the shortage continues

Millions of people have been struggling to get LFTs online – but some have trying to sell the packs given them to free by the Government, all paid for by the taxpayer

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Pharmacists have said they have been verbally abused for running out of tests - with the Government blamed for giving the delivery contract to one company, Alliance Healthcare, who shut down over Christmas. Wanstead Pharmacy in east London pictured

Pharmacists have said they have been verbally abused for running out of tests – with the Government blamed for giving the delivery contract to one company, Alliance Healthcare, who shut down over Christmas. Wanstead Pharmacy in east London pictured

National Pharmacy Association chairman Andrew Lane said more lateral flow tests are being distributed to pharmacies but supply is ‘still very patchy’ and he expects the test packs to be picked up ‘within the first few hours’ of them being delivered today.

ALL secondary school pupils in England will be tested for Covid before new term while ministers say classes may be merged to cover staff shortages 

Every secondary school pupil in England will have to be tested for Covid at least once before they join classes tomorrow – but plans to make them wear masks have been slammed.

The Department for Education says head teachers have access to their own supply of coronavirus swabs to meet demand.

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This is despite there being a nationwide test shortages – with ministers saying a stash has already been sent to each school.

Pupils will be expected to take lateral flow tests twice a week as well. 

It comes after the Education Secretary said entire classes may need to be merged into larger groups or sent home to work remotely due to teacher absences caused by coronavirus.

Schools may find it ‘impossible’ to deliver face-to-face teaching to all pupils as the Omicron variant leads to mass staff shortages, Nadhim Zahawi added.

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But the idea they will also have to wear masks for much of the day has been slated by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

He told the Telegraph: ‘I think this move is premature. I think we’ll see Covid spike and start to fall like it did in South Africa.

‘It’s far better to test pupils for Covid than to mandate masks. They will be worn badly and won’t stop contact between kids.

‘I don’t know who they’re going to protect – the teachers should be triple jabbed by now. It’s very important that the schooling isn’t wrecked as a result of this.’

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He added that pharmacy staff are facing abuse from patients frustrated by being unable to find a test.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Lane said: ‘I spoke to the managing director of Alliance Healthcare who are our wholesalers that distribute the tests into pharmacies, and she assured me that they are putting out two million a day and we are starting to see that come through.

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‘It is still very patchy though, so I will say that not every pharmacy today will have a box but most pharmacies in the country will be having a box so we just ask the public to persevere, and also treat us with respect.

‘We have had a lot of abuse over the last couple of weeks when the tests haven’t been there, but teams are doing their very best to help the public with this.’

Mr Lane added: ‘A box will contain I think 54 tests and many of our members are reporting that that box is gone within the first couple of hours of arriving within the pharmacy.’

Alliance Healthcare UK has admitted there was a closure between December 25 and 28, starting again on December 29 ‘when the majority of community pharmacies reopened’.  

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He said: ‘Since the start of the Pharmacy Collect scheme, Alliance Healthcare UK has distributed over 280 million lateral flow tests to community pharmacies across the UK. We distributed more than two million lateral flow tests on Christmas Eve to support a number of community pharmacies that remained open over Christmas Bank Holiday and where stock was available.

‘We continue to distribute around two million lateral flow tests daily from stock made available to us from UKHSA.’ 

A spokeswoman for the UKHSA said: ‘The UK’s testing programme is the biggest in Europe with almost 400 million tests carried out since the start of the pandemic.

‘We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with almost eight million test kits being made available to pharmacies between 29 December and New Year’s Eve.’   

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Entire classes may need to be merged into larger groups or sent home to work remotely due to teacher absences caused by coronavirus, the Education Secretary said yesterday.

Schools may find it ‘impossible’ to deliver face-to-face teaching to all pupils as the Omicron variant leads to mass staff shortages, Nadhim Zahawi added.

His admission came as the Department for Education confirmed that secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms and test themselves twice a week when they return tomorrow.

In an open letter to schools sent yesterday, Mr Zahawi said remote learning ‘should only be on a short-term measure’ and schools ‘should return to full-time in-person attendance for all pupils as soon as practicable’.

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He added: ‘If operational challenges caused by workforce shortages in your setting make delivery of face-to-face teaching impossible, I would encourage you to consider ways to implement a flexible approach to learning.’

Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school 2

Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school 4

Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school 6

LONDON: Cases in the capital have been plateauing recently although holiday reporting  glitched could be to blame. The grey bars are incomplete data and will rise

LONDON: Cases in the capital have been plateauing recently although holiday reporting  glitched could be to blame. The grey bars are incomplete data and will rise 

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Testing chaos continues in race to get swabbed before nation returns to work and school 8

This could involve using all available staff to ‘maximise on-site education for as many pupils as possible’ while schools ‘flexibly deliver provision either on-site or remotely to some pupils’. However, he stressed that such arrangements must be only temporary. 

France cuts Covid isolation period to five days for double-vaccinated adults as Boris Johnson faces pressure to do the same 

France became the latest country to introduce a five-day isolation period for those with Covid, as pressure grew on UK ministers to follow suit.

Despite cases surging in Europe, French authorities cut the isolation period from ten days to five for those who are double-vaccinated and produce a negative test.

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It came as anti-lockdown protests in Amsterdam turned violent. Demonstrators were mauled by police dogs and hit with batons by officers who were trying to disband a march yesterday.

While England’s quarantine rules remain in place – negative tests on days six and seven mean you can leave the house – the number of NHS staff off sick or isolating continues to rocket.

In recent days the number of NHS workers staying at home for Covid reasons has doubled.

NHS figures show that on December 12, NHS England recorded 12,240 staff absent due to Covid sickness or self-isolation. 

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Two weeks later, on December 26, this had doubled to 24,632, and by New Year’s Eve it had doubled again to almost 50,000 – accounting for nearly half of all staff absences, The Sunday Times reported.

Chris Hopson, chairman of NHS Providers, said staff absences were having a greater impact than during last January’s Covid wave. 

He tweeted: ‘Staff flat out, especially given level of staff absences. We will need to ask them to perform flexible heroics again if hospital Covid numbers continue to rise. We can’t keep doing this.’  

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Supplies of Covid tests are likely to be rationed over the next fortnight as health officials struggle to cope with ‘huge demand’, Sajid Javid admitted.

The health secretary warned in a letter to MPs that tests will need to be prioritised for ‘vulnerable groups’, such as care home residents and staff.

But there are fears the supply problems could hit the economy if workers are unable to get the tests they need to leave quarantine early.

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Medical unions revealed doctors and nurses are among those struggling to access tests as they called for them to be pushed to the front of the queue in a bid to avert an NHS staffing crisis.

The government website was not taking orders for home deliveries of lateral flow tests for most of Wednesday and there was no availability yesterday morning [THU]. Online ordering was back up and running last night.

Pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies.

Ministers are now scrambling to secure tests from around the world as they battle an ‘unprecedented’ surge in demand caused by a rise in infections and a change in self-isolation rules. 

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Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it is ‘very worrying’ that some people will be unable to check if they are infectious during the festive party season.

Conditions at such events are ‘perfect’ for spreading the virus, he added.

Professor Openshaw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it’s very worrying indeed.

‘We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don’t think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year.

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‘But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.’

Mr Javid plans to use 900million lateral flow devices (LFDs) this winter in an attempt to keep the virus under control, staff in work and businesses open.

The UK Health Security Agency doubled deliveries of LFDs from 120million to almost 300million in December.

And the government will triple supplies for January and February from an anticipated 100million to 300million per month.

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Mr Javid told MPs: ‘The arrival of the omicron variant has caused record case numbers and unprecedented demand for both PCR and Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests.

‘This has inevitably placed strain on the testing system, despite the impressive scaling-up of supply, logistics and laboratory capacity. Other countries have faced similar challenges.’

He added: ‘We are constantly reviewing system performance and ways to maximise its response to the demand for tests.

‘However, in light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.

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The Government has faced mounting criticism over its decision to reintroduce face masks, with critics saying it a 'declaration of war against children' (file image)

The Government has faced mounting criticism over its decision to reintroduce face masks, with critics saying it a ‘declaration of war against children’ (file image)

‘We will continue making tests available to everyone who needs them, particularly vulnerable groups such as care home residents and those who work in critical sectors such as the care workforce.’

The UK Health Security Agency has previously stressed there was no issue with supply, instead blaming logistical problems, including difficulties shipping so many tests from its warehouses.

But outlining plans for the months ahead, Mr Javid said: ‘To respond to anticipated demand over the coming few weeks we are buying hundreds of millions more LFD tests, bringing new products on board and accelerating their deployment to the public.

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‘We are also doubling our total delivery capacity with Royal Mail to 900,000 test packs and PCR tests a day.

‘We are tripling the supply of LFDs in January and February from our pre-omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.’

Mr Javid said that the Government’s daily PCR capacity had been increased from 530,000 per day in November to 700,000 per day now, excluding those for NHS patients and staff.

He also stressed the UK is providing tests free of charge for people with or without symptoms, unlike many other countries.

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