Don’t risk a new wave, No10 tells Sturgeon as test site swamped

The Scottish Government is facing growing calls not to take a separate path out of the coronavirus lockdown, amid growing signs that the consensus between the UK’s four nations is fracturing.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaking during a remote press conference. Picture: AP
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaking during a remote press conference. Picture: AP

Yesterday the Welsh government followed Scotland in publishing its own approach to ending restrictions, with UK ministers insisting that a detailed plan for how social distancing measures will be lifted is not necessary.

Welsh ministers also revealed they will not use a new UK government portal allowing millions of key workers to book coronavirus tests if they have symptoms, massively increasing eligibility for testing.

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Polling by YouGov suggests 45 per cent of people in Scotland believe the UK government is doing a bad job of handling the outbreak, higher than the 33 per cent recorded in England. Nicola Sturgeon said eligibility for tests would be extended in Scotland, allowing key workers such as supermarket staff and oil and gas workers to use the online portal to book a test at a drive through centre, or have a testing kit posted to them.

But there were signs of frustration in the UK government and among the First Minister’s political opponents following the publication of her blueprint for life after lockdown, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman warning Edinburgh not to take steps “that could risk a second wave of the virus”.

And the Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said: “To avoid that confusion, to avoid people on one side of a Border working, and on the other side not, to avoid companies and employees being totally confused about what they should and should not do, I think the best way for us to come out of this is as we went into it, which is in lockstep together out of the lockdown.”

Ms Sturgeon confirmed yesterday that the Scottish Government will be setting out its scheme for testing essential workers soon.

The Scottish Government will set out guidance on which categories of workers can be tested, she said.

Health and social care staff will continue to be tested through health boards, she said.

The second group will be people involved with “critical national infrastructure”, followed by people in “other essential services” and those volunteering in important areas.

The First Minister added that the Scottish Government would “wait until the system itself has stabilised and the current technical difficulties that it’s experiencing have been resolved.”

The UK government portal was overwhelmed as it opened to new bookings yesterday, with home testing kits running out in the first two minutes of the site going live. Some 46,000 people tried to book a coronavirus test.

By mid-morning, the gov.uk website said it was not accepting any more applications. It said: “Coronavirus test: applications closed. You can’t currently register for a Covid-19 test. Please check back here later.”

The UK Department of Health tweeted: “There has been significant demand for booking tests today. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

In all, around ten million key workers and their households have been made eligible for tests as the UK government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Fewer than 29,000 tests were carried out yesterday.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said up to 18,000 home testing kits per day will be available by the end of next week. Another 15,000 tests were anticipated to take place at drive-through centres.

Number 10 said the government is trusting that those applying for tests are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.

The official spokesman said: “As with many other aspects of the coronavirus response, we would expect the public to respond in good faith.

“That is what they have done with other aspects of the scheme, I think we’d expect it to be the same here.”

On testing being rolled out to other groups, the spokesman added: “We want the capacity that we have in the system to be used and you can see this morning that the system is working, people are booking slots and now they are going to be able to undergo tests.”

Asked whether the government was confident people would be able to test themselves accurately with a kit sent to their homes, the spokesman added: “There are videos available to show people how to do this and people will be given clear instructions.”

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, when asked whether he thought the government would meet the target of 100,000 tests a day, said: “I do, yes, but nothing’s guaranteed in life.”

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said getting “somewhere near” the 100,000 tests a day target would be an achievement by international standards.

He told the daily coronavirus press briefing at Downing Street: “I think that if by the end of the next week, the end of the month, we’ve got somewhere near that goal of 100,000, I think in comparative terms internationally I think that’s a very high number.”

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