UK struggling with coronavirus tests amid global shortage

UK

LONDON (Reuters) – Testing as many people as possible for the coronavirus is vitally important but a global shortage of testing equipment is causing a supply bottleneck, British medical authorities said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty speaks at a briefing on COVID-19 measures, as the number of coronavirus cases grow around the world, in London, Britain, March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Not all staff working within Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) are being tested, a major concern for health workers as the epidemic worsens across the country.

“We do not have sufficient testing and this is a global problem because basically every country is wanting this new test, for a disease that wasn’t actually being tested for anywhere three months ago,” said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, at a news conference.

“There is a global shortage and that’s a bottleneck for us,” he said, speaking alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street.

Whitty added that any test being deployed as part of the response to the coronavirus crisis had to be reliable, because a bad test was worse than no test at all.

Johnson said that despite the shortage, Britain had conducted more tests than most other European countries – adding that it was not a competition.

Whitty also said that the modeling being used by the authorities was based on the assumption that a lot of people would still have to go to work, despite government orders that people should stay at home unless it was absolutely necessary to leave.

The government appealed on Tuesday for 250,000 volunteers to help the health service cope with the crisis, and Johnson said on Wednesday a far greater number had already come forward.

“I want to offer a special thank-you to everyone who has now volunteered to help the NHS,” Johnson said.

“When we launched the appeal last night we hoped to get 250,000 volunteers over a few days, but I can tell you that in just 24 hours, 405,000 people have responded to the call.”

Reporting by Andy Bruce, William James and Elizabeth Howcroft; writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison

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