Testing capacity will be further increased in Scotland to help battle the capacity issues experienced by the system over the weekend, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
A total of 11 new walk-through testing centres will be opened across the country in a bid to improve access to Covid-19 tests and stop people being directed to testing centres in England.
The first of these will be set up in the Victory Memorial Hall in St Andrews, Fife.
In addition, three new mobile testing centres will be set up in the central belt with one opening in Glasgow later today.
Together, the new testing centres aim to increase testing capacity by around 4,500 tests per day.
Over the weekend there were reports an increase in the number of school-age pupils reporting symptoms of Covid-19 had led to an “exceptional” spike in the number of requests for tests.
Many people who were looking to book a test were offered tests outside of Scotland with the First Minister saying “constraints” on the booking system had also led to a surge of calls to the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 helpline.
Ms Sturgeon said technical issues such as the ones described “should not be happening” and are in the process of being fixed “as quickly as possible”.
She said: “Where any technical issues do arise, as unfortunately with a system of this scale and complexity might sometimes do, we will endeavour to have those sorted as quickly as possible.
“On the issue of capacity though, which is the more significant issue, we’ve always known that there will be fluctuations in demand for testing. That’s why we have contingency plans in place and these contingency plans are already, as we speak, being activated.
"We will continue to implement these plans to further increase capacity as we head into winter, as we have always been preparing to do.
"But we will also continue work to sure appropriate contingencies are in place for periods when we have higher than expected demand for testing – which is likely to happen as we go into winter but, at any point, if there perhaps is another virus circulating, a cold that is leading, perhaps in particular, to children having symptoms similar to COVID then we know we will see these spikes in demand and that’s why we need to have these contingencies in place to deal with them.”
The First Minister, speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing also moved to reassure people worried that walk-through centres would lead to an increased risk of infection.
Ms Sturgeon also said the final locations of the other ten walk-through centres are in the process of being finalised and will prioritise areas in Scotland that struggle with accessibility to testing at the moment and will also be based on demand.
She said: “That [risk of infection] is one of the issues that is being looked at very closely in terms of the planning for walk-through centres and they will be designed in a way to minimise and mitigate that but that’s why we have perhaps taken a bit longer to get to establishing walk-through centres to make sure all of these issues are taken account of.
"We are still process of deciding the location of these and part of what we will be looking at is patterns of demand and also local accessibility.
"The first one is in St Andrews and obviously St Andrews is a university town as well so that is another reason why that is an appropriate location.
"We’ll be looking carefully at parts of Scotland where the distance to regional centres may be longer, where it is maybe more difficult to get home testing kits quickly to people but also we will be looking closely at where the patterns of demand suggest these locations should be.
"We will make decisions on that fairly soon because the intention is that these centres will be up and running as we go into the winter.”
Interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith added infection control at the centres had been “carefully thought through” and said there would be no increased risk of people being unknowingly infected by those presenting for testing.
He said: “Accessibility is one of the core components of why these walk-in centres are being developed and particularly for communities who don’t have ready access to vehicles that can take them to one of the regional centres, we wanted to make sure that they were able to access testing safely, appropriately and quickly when that was needed as well.
"These centres will be located in areas where that requirement has been identified.
"To give you the reassurance that you would expect is that the infection prevention and control measures which are associated with these centres has been very very carefully thought through to make sure that both the staff that work with them but also the immediate environment around about them are not subject to any increased risk from people presenting for testing as well.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Donald Cameron MSP, said: “It is absolutely vital that the increased demand for Covid testing since schools returned is met, and met quickly.
“I urge the Scottish Government to make this their priority so that faith in the Covid testing system is maintained.
“Speed and accuracy of testing is essential if Scotland is to suppress the virus, keep people as safe as possible, and allow everyone to return to work and school.”