Too many people getting COVID tests are 'not eligible', says health secretary

People with no coronavirus symptoms getting tests are to blame for the system reaching its limit, the health secretary has suggested.

Matt Hancock told Sky News the reason many people have reported being unable to book a test is because the proportion of those asking for them who have no symptoms has risen to 25%.

“We have seen an increase in demand including from people who are not eligible for tests, people who don’t have symptoms,” he said on the Kay Burley programme.

“You are eligible for a test if you have symptoms of coronavirus or if you have a very specific reason otherwise. We have seen an increase, and about 25% of people who are coming forward don’t have symptoms and aren’t eligible.”

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It comes after a spike in COVID-19 infections led to warnings people have “relaxed too much” – and the law being changed to curb the maximum number allowed to socialise from 30 down to six in England from Monday.

But those keen to get tested have been met for several days by an error message on the government website, telling them the “system is currently unavailable”.

MANSTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: A traffic sign directs people towards the temporary testing centre on the site at Manston Airport on August 04, 2020 in Manston, England. A group of Britain's leading virus experts have written to the government, expressing their frustration at the mistakes being made in the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, signed by nearly 70 clinical virologists, they state that “Our skills have been underused and underrepresented (albeit to differing extents within the devolved nations of the UK), resulting in lost opportunities to establish a coordinated robust and durable testing framework for Sars-CoV-2.” (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Labour accused the government of ‘failing to get even the basics right’

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of “ignoring the problem” of more people being told to go hundreds of miles to get a coronavirus test.

“Far from the world-beating system we were promised, the government can’t even get the basics right,” said Sir Keir.

He added “people are trying to do the right thing”, but the government is not keeping up its end of the “bargain” and providing a functioning test and trace system.

Mr Johnson claimed there’s been a “massive increase” in the number of people who want or need tests recently.

The head of testing at Whitehall’s Test and Trace operation previously blamed laboratories processing tests, saying they have reached a “critical pinch-point”.

Mr Hancock admitted it could take weeks for the problem to be fixed.

He also addressed the sharp rise in cases, which rose by 2,460 on Monday, and the news of a further 32 deaths, taking the total to 41,586.

“If you have a rise in the number of cases and you don’t act then that inexorably leads to more people in hospital and more people dying of coronavirus,” the health secretary explained.

Labour has accused ministers of “failing to get even the basics right” and “blaming everybody but themselves”.

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Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, told Sky News: “This is a government who promised a world-beating system. Frankly, at the moment, we would just like one that works and we don’t even have that.”

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