Nicola Sturgeon urged to increase asymptomatic tests

Scotland needs “mass testing in all communities” to control the spread of the virus and avoid future lockdowns, the First Minister has been told.

Jackie Baillie at First Minister's Questions.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, interim Scottish Labour leader Jackie Baillie said the government needed to increase the community testing of asymptomatic people after trials last year had uncovered hundreds of cases.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also pressed the government on a lack of testing those with no symptoms and claimed 1.2 million PCR tests had not been used since Christmas, with the government only using a quarter of tests available.

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Ms Baillie said: “We’ve known for some time that the First Minister's symptom-led approach to testing is not enough to control the virus. South Korea and Germany and other countries have been using PCR tests for months to find asymptomatic carriers. Even now, in England, nearly one in every 100 people are tested daily for Covid-19.

“The testing capacity that is there should be used for asymptomatic testing. Eleven months into this pandemic, this government has been slow to test, slow to trace, slow to support people who are self-isolating. Whilst the vaccine gives us hope, experts tell us that Covid will be here for some time to come.

“To lift current restrictions and not end up in a third wave and another lockdown, we need a functioning test, trace and isolate system. That is not what we have in Scotland today.”

However, Ms Sturgeon said: “If the central proposition is that England has done better than Scotland, why are rates so much lower in Scotland just now? I don’t think this should be some competition we’re all working hard to get rates as low as possible. We’re using testing in an appropriate way to do that and expanding that as we go through.

“The numbers quoted are for people with symptoms and the reason that quantity is not used every day is because the levels of the virus are thankfully lower than they would be if that volume was used up to capacity.

"We're using asymptomatic testing now much more widely in care homes, NHS staff, community asymptomatic testing … all of which is helping us to get the rates of the virus down, which is so crucial.”

Mr Rennie also raised testing and said the government was not extending asymptomatic testing fast enough.

“The reality is that the Scottish Government's testing strategy has been flailing for months. The First Minister needs to recognise the role of asymptomatic testing and get it running properly to hunt down the virus and stamp it out," he said.

Ms Sturgeon said Mr Rennie had “mis-characterised” the government's approach to testing and claimed the Lib Dems leader "pretended" to misunderstand it.

“We use the PCR testing capacity principally for symptomatic cases so they can be caught and diagnosed and put into self isolation with their contacts isolated as well,” she said.

"The reason the symptomatic cases are not meeting the capacity we have for that is because the levels of virus are thankfully lower than that.”

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