With Scotland reporting a record of almost 16,000 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday – the highest daily total in the pandemic so far – Humza Yousaf warned that the testing system does “not have an infinite capacity”.
Only a “very few” slots for PCR testing were available in Scotland on Wednesday, according to the UK Government website.
Amid such pressure, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said some slots are now being prioritised for essential workers – such as those working in the NHS or public transport – insisting this is a “sensible step to take at this stage”.
Mr Yousaf, meanwhile, rejected the suggestion that the Covid testing system is “on the brink.”
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The testing regime is undoubtedly under significant, significant pressure; that is why we have had to prioritise essential workers.
“We don’t have an infinite capacity when it comes to testing so, when we reach that capacity, it is important we prioritise those essential workers.
“So, yes, you may have to wait a little bit longer than you normally would pre-Omicron for a test, but please keep trying because new slots become available on the website throughout the day.”
Mr Yousaf added: “I think everybody would recognise we have one of the best testing regimes in the entire world.”
While he accepted that people “may be waiting longer than they would have done pre-Omicron given we don’t have infinite capacity”, he said “I don’t think people expect us to have unlimited capacity”.
Reports that UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid may have “privately admitted” there is a worldwide shortage of Covid tests are “deeply concerning” – with Mr Yousaf saying he has been advised that the UK Government is seeking to increase capacity at its Lighthouse laboratories over the coming weeks.
He added: “Instead of speculating on rumours, I will take it up personally and privately with Sajid Javid, because I would be concerned if there were worldwide shortages.
“But the messages I am getting from the UK Government are certainly that they are looking to add capacity in the days and weeks ahead.”