Britons are scrambling to find lateral flow tests to save their New Year’s Eve celebrations as millions of households run low or run out completely due to a national scarcity caused by the Omicron explosion.
People have been travelling from pharmacy to pharmacy to find rapid tests – and waiting in queues around the block to grab them – after the Government’s website again suffered chronic shortages.
One test hunter tweeted: ‘Trying to get hold of a lateral flow test at the moment is like Race Across the World. Dashing madly from location to location, and keep bumping into the same people, on the same mission’.
Another wrote: ‘Feel like @Schwarzenegger trying to find turbo man, only it’s lateral flow test kits. Everywhere all gone’ – a nod to the Terminator star’s 1996 Christmas hit movie, Jingle All The Way.
Some lucky enough to have enough tests – and be covid-free – posted images of their results with bottles of Prosecco at the ready. Others have admitted that a lack of tests won’t put them off going out, telling Boris Johnson to ‘stick them up his a***’.
Boris Johnson has urged anyone seeing friends or family this evening to test beforehand despite kits being increasingly hard to come by.
It has led to a rush of people trying to find them in their communities – or borrow them from neighbours – to ensure they see are Covid-free as they see in 2022.
The already wounded pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs of England say the Prime Minister’s advice has already shattered their businesses. Some have started offering people lateral flows outside to bring in more customers on what should be the busiest night of the year.
The Astoria nightclub in Portsmouth, Hampshire and adjoining Mr Miyagi’s bar are preparing for a bumper New Years Eve party with over 2000 expected through the doors. The bar opened up this afternoon for people to pick up their wristbands and have a lateral flow test ahead of the evening.
Finn Touhig, 18, gets a fre test in the bar – but millions of households are short of tests or run out completely
A sign warning that take away lateral flow test kits are out of stock on the window of a pharmacy in Colden Common, Hampshire, today
It was the same picture at the a Boots store in Eastleigh, Hampshire
People went to pharmacies today (Tonbridge, Kent, left) in the hope they can find a test – only to find they had all gone. Those lucky enough to have them posted their negative results and their booze of choice (right)
People compared looking for lateral flows to the hunt for toys at Christmas
One last party for England? Boris warns of ‘challenges in coming weeks’ in NYE message as he mulls new restrictions NEXT WEEK
Boris Johnson will decide next week whether to impose new coronavirus restrictions to limit indoor socialising as the Prime Minister said in his New Year’s Eve message that there are likely to be ‘challenges’ in the weeks ahead.
Mr Johnson is expected to make a decision in the first week of the New Year on whether to restrict mixing indoors in England, according to The Times.
The Prime Minister opted not to impose new curbs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve but rising Covid case numbers are fuelling fears that new measures could be on the horizon.
A further 189,213 coronavirus cases were recorded across the UK yesterday – a new record high – while the number of hospital patients with Covid in England rose to 11,452, a rise of 61 per cent in just one week.
Estimates published by the Office for National Statistics today suggested one in 25 people in England had Covid in the week to December 23, up from one in 45 in the week to December 16.
One in 25 equates to approximately two million people – the highest number since the ONS started estimating infection levels in England in May 2020.
Mr Johnson said in his New Year’s Eve message that the nation’s position in the battle against the disease is now ‘incomparably better than last year’ thanks to the vaccine rollout.
It came as NHS bosses warned that the Government ‘needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed’.
Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, said new curbs ‘may be needed at pace if the evidence warrants it’ as he said health bosses ‘still don’t know’ if there will be a surge in elderly hospitalisations which could trigger Mr Johnson to act.
Meanwhile, a Government scientific adviser today warned it is likely the NHS will be overwhelmed by the spread of the Omicron variant.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said: ‘I think we haven’t quite reached the threshold that was set by Government in terms of the NHS being overwhelmed, but it looks like that will be reached quite quickly.’
Supplies of Covid tests are likely to be rationed over the next fortnight as health officials struggle to cope with ‘huge demand’, Sajid Javid has admitted.
The health secretary warned in a letter to MPs that tests will need to be prioritised for ‘vulnerable groups’, such as care home residents and staff.
But there are fears the supply problems could hit the economy if workers are unable to get the tests they need to leave quarantine early.
Medical unions revealed doctors and nurses are among those struggling to access tests as they called for them to be pushed to the front of the queue in a bid to avert an NHS staffing crisis.
The government website was not taking orders for home deliveries of lateral flow tests for most of Wednesday and there was no availability yesterday morning [THU]. Online ordering was back up and running last night.
Pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies.
Ministers are now scrambling to secure tests from around the world as they battle an ‘unprecedented’ surge in demand caused by a rise in infections and a change in self-isolation rules.
The shortage of rapid Covid tests threatens to turn New Year’s Eve celebrations into super-spreading events, an expert has warned.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it is ‘very worrying’ that some people will be unable to check if they are infectious before attending a party this evening.
Conditions at such events are ‘perfect’ for spreading the virus, he added.
Professor Openshaw told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it’s very worrying indeed.
‘We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don’t think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year.
‘But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.’
Mr Javid plans to use 900million lateral flow devices (LFDs) this winter in an attempt to keep the virus under control, staff in work and businesses open.
The UK Health Security Agency doubled deliveries of LFDs from 120million to almost 300million in December.
And the government will triple supplies for January and February from an anticipated 100million to 300million per month.
Mr Javid told MPs: ‘The arrival of the omicron variant has caused record case numbers and unprecedented demand for both PCR and Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests.
‘This has inevitably placed strain on the testing system, despite the impressive scaling-up of supply, logistics and laboratory capacity. Other countries have faced similar challenges.’
He added: ‘We are constantly reviewing system performance and ways to maximise its response to the demand for tests.
‘However, in light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.
‘We will continue making tests available to everyone who needs them, particularly vulnerable groups such as care home residents and those who work in critical sectors such as the care workforce.’
Daily Covid admission in London have risen again, with 456 newly-infected patients placed on wards on December 28. This is the second day in a row admissions been above the crucial 400-a-day threshold that Government advisers warned could trigger nationwide intervention
Scottish Government issues last ditch plea to Scots heading to England to celebrate NYE to ‘stay away’ from large-scale parties
The Scottish Government today issued a last ditch plea to Scots to avoid large-scale New Year’s Eve parties as English pubs brace for thousands of revellers to cross the border to celebrate this evening.
Nicola Sturgeon has banned large Hogmanay celebrations and advised people to limit socialising as much as possible.
But many Scots are expected to head to England to escape the coronavirus curbs and to see in the New Year.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney today called on all Scots to stick to the Scottish Government’s guidance.
He said people are being urged to restrict socialising because Omicron is ‘spreading very, very widely within our society’ and it ‘poses a serious threat to us’.
Groups of excited Scots were pictured yesterday arriving in Newcastle, Blackpool and London to celebrate New Year’s Eve and go to football matches with more expected to follow suit today.
Ms Sturgeon announced the ban on large-scale Hogmanay events last week and she decided to stick with it earlier this week.
The First Minister said it is ‘prudent’ and ‘essential’ to take action to reduce transmission of the disease in order to ‘avoid the sheer volume of cases overwhelming us’.
She has urged people to reduce their contacts with other households and to ‘limit the size of any indoor social gatherings that do take place so that they don’t include people from any more than three households’.
There are similar restrictions on socialising in place in Wales and experts have predicted as many as 100,000 Scottish and Welsh revellers could journey across the border to celebrate this evening.
There are no such curbs in England, with people simply being encouraged to take a Covid test before they head to a party.
Mr Swinney was asked this morning why the Scottish Government was not prepared to ‘trust’ people to get tested before celebrating.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We do trust people and we have encouraged them to do exactly that.
‘But we have also asked people to limit their social contact because we can see from all of the data that you have just recounted that Omicron is spreading very, very widely within our society.
‘It poses a serious threat to us, we can see hospitalisation levels are increasing… so at a time when I recognise all of the sentiments that were set out in the clip that you have just played, I recognise all of those traditions, I have been part of them, I value them, I appreciate them, I love them, it is part of who we are.
‘But unfortunately this time around we have to apply some constraints on the level of social interaction we have to protect others.’
The UK Health Security Agency has previously stressed there was no issue with supply, instead blaming logistical problems, including difficulties shipping so many tests from its warehouses.
But outlining plans for the months ahead, Mr Javid said: ‘To respond to anticipated demand over the coming few weeks we are buying hundreds of millions more LFD tests, bringing new products on board and accelerating their deployment to the public.
‘We are also doubling our total delivery capacity with Royal Mail to 900,000 test packs and PCR tests a day.
‘We are tripling the supply of LFDs in January and February from our pre-omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.’
Mr Javid said that the Government’s daily PCR capacity had been increased from 530,000 per day in November to 700,000 per day now, excluding those for NHS patients and staff.
He also stressed the UK is providing tests free of charge for people with or without symptoms, unlike many other countries.
‘We are doing more testing per head than any comparable country and we have focused recent communications on encouraging testing before seeing friends and relatives, particularly those who are vulnerable, over the festive period,’ he added.
Frontline NHS staff who are a close contact of a Covid case at home can only work after receiving a negative PCR test and must take a daily LFD for ten days.
But some doctors and nurses have said they cannot get hold of LFDs as they are having to use the same system as the public, leading to a huge increase in staff absences, which threaten patient safety and risk operations being cancelled.
One cancer care worker from London explained she missed several days of work after being unable to access rapid tests via online ordering or pharmacy collection routes – even after identifying as a key worker.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, she told the BBC: ‘This is one of the key reasons why there are absences on the front line.
‘I used to pick up two boxes of 40 tests from work, but now I have to access tests in the same queue as the general public.’ Another NHS worker, based in Cambridgeshire, also confirmed they had been unable to get hold of rapid tests through their hospital ahead of the Christmas period.
The British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing said healthcare staff should be prioritised.
The Welsh Government has agreed to loan four million more lateral flow tests to the NHS in England, bringing that mutual aid to a total of 10million.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: ‘Wales has a significant stock of lateral flow tests, sufficient to meet our needs over the weeks ahead.’
Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said the Scottish Government is now ‘prioritising some slots for essential workers – such as NHS and transport staff – as well as for those who are clinically vulnerable or eligible for new Covid treatments’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people in England heading out for Christmas or New Year’s Eve festivities to get tested.
And the rules were recently changed to allow people who catch Covid to leave quarantine after seven days, rather than ten, if they test negative on a lateral flow test two days in row.
The UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday that eight million lateral flow test kits would be made available to pharmacies by today [FRI].
The Department for Health and Social Care said the NHS has ‘additional stock of lateral flow tests’ and stressed people who ‘live or work in vulnerable settings have access to dedicated testing order routes’.
A government spokesperson said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have prioritised the most vulnerable when it comes to vaccines, boosters, testing and other infection control measures such as PPE.’
There are over 18,000 staff absent from acute hospital trusts in England either with Covid or because they are self-isolating.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, has written to Sajid Javid calling for him to prioritise PCR and lateral flow tests for key workers.
He said test shortages are adding to the pressure on the health service as ‘worrying numbers of NHS staff are having to isolate’.
He added: ‘I urge you to put the key workers we have relied upon for the past two years to the front of the queue and do everything you can to prevent a staffing shortage crisis in our NHS.
‘The Government must get a grip on this crisis, bring these shortages to an end, and ensure everyone can access tests quickly and regularly.’
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, said: ‘The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has no doubt had a massive impact on demand for lateral flow test kits and PCR tests, however it is vital that the promised new supply of kits are offered to key workers such as health and social care staff as a priority.
‘Being unable to get the tests means staff may not be legally allowed to work and at a time of acute workforce shortages and winter pressures this could be devastating for the care that can be given right across the NHS.’
And Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, blasted the shortage of rapid flow tests, saying it is pointless recommending their use if nobody can get one.
He told Times Radio: ‘The Government advice is reasonably clear about what people need to do before they’re allowed to socialise, before they’re allowed to release after self-isolation, but there’s no point in having that advice if as GPs we know we’re no longer able to help patients to actually act on that advice, and that’s a big issue for us.’