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Revealed: UK firm is selling coronavirus testing kits to EIGHTY countries because labs here 'can't cope' - while NHS swabbing stations stand deserted in Britain

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 31/03/2020 Sophie Borland for the Daily Mail and Daniel Martin for the Daily Mail and Matt Oliver For The Daily Mail and Sebastian Murphy-bates and Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter For Mailonline
A Covid-19 drive-through testing station for NHS staff in Chessington. © Getty A Covid-19 drive-through testing station for NHS staff in Chessington.

A British firm producing millions of pounds worth of coronavirus tests is selling most of them abroad because the UK doesn’t have enough laboratories to use them - as ministers were today accused of losing their grip on the crisis.

Novacyt has made £17.8million selling its testing equipment to more than 80 countries via its Southampton-based subsidiary Primerdesign. But only £1million worth has been sold to the UK, raising questions about why Britain is not buying more at a time when there are global shortages of tests.

It came as a huge NHS coronavirus swabbing site stood deserted yesterday despite the urgent need for more patients and medics to be examined. Pictures surfaced showing a testing site for NHS staff in Chessington, south-west London, as the UK's coronavirus death rate doubled - while one at Ikea in Wembley was also quiet. 

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a person standing in front of a building: Pictured: Stewards organise traffic at a Covid-19 test centre for NHS workers which has opened at Ikea's store in Wembley, north-west London © Provided by Daily Mail Pictured: Stewards organise traffic at a Covid-19 test centre for NHS workers which has opened at Ikea's store in Wembley, north-west London Hospitals have today been ordered to use any spare lab space to test self-isolating NHS staff for coronavirus as a record-breaking 381 coronavirus deaths were announced in the UK, taking the total to 1,789 fatalities.  

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has intervened to end the embarrassing situation where thousands of tests have been unused and a vast NHS swabbing station also stood deserted yesterday. 

Huge numbers of doctors, nurses and other crucial NHS staff are at home self-isolating but most have not been tested for coronavirus. The failure is causing growing anger because many could return to work if cleared of having the virus. 

a row of cars parked on the side of a fence: There was little activity at the Chessington coronavirus testing site which was set up as a drive-thru for NHS workers who need to get tested © Provided by Daily Mail There was little activity at the Chessington coronavirus testing site which was set up as a drive-thru for NHS workers who need to get tested A source said the Mr Hancock had now scrapped a rule that 85 per cent of tests were reserved for patients, regardless of how many needed testing.

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today claimed the UK will be able to test up to 25,000 people per day by the middle of April.

a screenshot of a cell phone screen with text © Provided by Daily Mail

It marks the darkest day so far for the NHS, which has seen patients dying by the dozen in hospitals in every corner of the country.  

a train is parked on the side of a road: Pictured: The testing centre at one of Chessington World of Adventures' car parks which was largely deserted yesterday morning despite the rise in death rates from the novel coronavirus © Provided by Daily Mail Pictured: The testing centre at one of Chessington World of Adventures' car parks which was largely deserted yesterday morning despite the rise in death rates from the novel coronavirus Boris Johnson is said to be taking control of ensuring chemicals vital to test kits arrive in the UK amid the criticism. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said at yesterday's Downing Street press conference: 'The prime minister and the health secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.' 

Scientists have accused health chiefs of snubbing their expertise, as experts at the Francis Crick Institute and Oxford University told the Daily Telegraph that Public Health England had left them 'sitting on their hands'. Oxford University has 119 machines that can be used to identify tell-tale genetic signs of the virus, but Government officials have only so far accepted one. The Francis Crick Institute has supplied five machines to the NHS, but has dozens more that aren't being utilised in the fight against the pandemic. 

a screenshot of a video game © Provided by Daily Mail The Government is under attack for failing to ramp up its testing quickly enough – only 8,240 patients were screened over the past 24 hours.

Today the Mail reveals that a British firm is selling kits to 80 countries, including India. Novacyt said a shortage of NHS testing facilities had prevented further UK sales. Separately, a former World Health Organisation chief said the Government’s health protection agency had been ‘slow’ over testing and that 44 labs were underused.

No10 admitted its target of carrying out 25,000 tests a day might not be hit until May. As the NHS’s medical director said the number of new cases seemed to be stabilising:

A drive-thru test centre was established at Chessington World of Adventures and was seen up and operational from Friday to Monday.

a road with a building in the background: Pictured: The quiet and empty testing site at Chessington World of Adventures in south-west London this morning © Provided by Daily Mail Pictured: The quiet and empty testing site at Chessington World of Adventures in south-west London this morning

10,000 NHS staff tell PM: We need proper protection 

By Liz Hull for the Daily Mail

More than 10,000 frontline NHS staff have written to the Prime Minister to demand proper protective equipment amid growing anger that a lack of supplies is putting lives at risk.

Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, last night admitted there had been ‘distribution issues’ but insisted the UK had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope with the pandemic.

Millions of masks, gloves, aprons and other items were delivered to hospitals on Monday, the Government said, with the Army helping to get them out nationwide.

Import taxes on such clothing, ventilators and virus testing kits have also been waived to ease supply, the Chancellor said.

But, despite this, unions representing healthcare workers say their members are complaining in droves about shortages of safety equipment. The GMB said some social care staff were being expected to make visits with just a plastic apron and a pair of gloves – ‘the same protection that they use to make a sandwich.’

The letter to Boris Johnson has been co-ordinated by EveryDoctor, a membership organisation of UK doctors which campaigns on safety in the NHS.

In pictures: Coronavirus outbreak (Photos)

It says NHS guidelines on what medics should wear to treat Covid-19 patients are not stringent enough and should be brought into line with World Health Organisation recommendations. The statement has been signed by more than 20,000 medics, including 10,000 who work in the NHS, in less than two days.

A senior nurse yesterday told the Daily Mail community hospital staff had been left as ‘sitting ducks’ for coronavirus because of a lack of specialist masks and goggles.

The healthcare worker, who has more than 20 years’ experience, said she was forced to take blood from a suspected Covid-19 patient, who later tested positive, at the community hospital in North Wales where she works, with just a ‘flimsy’ paper mask and gloves. Only after managers complained and two more cases were confirmed were more staff measured up for the PPE equipment, she added.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘The full weight of the Government is behind the PPE effort with PPE being sent out 24 hours a day and the Army.' 

But on Tuesday the site - which sits in one of the theme park's car parks - was quiet as Britain's daily  fatalities figure surged more than twice as high as it was yesterday, when only 180 new fatalities were announced. 

Office for National Statistics data showed today that 210 people had died in the UK by March 20, when the Government had only recorded 170 in the same time frame - a difference of almost a quarter. If that ratio remains true the true number of fatalities could be 2,230 or more.  

One of the new victims was just 19 years old, from London, and didn't have any other health conditions, making them the UK's youngest otherwise-healthy patient to have died. 

More than 3,000 infection cases were also recorded today, taking the UK's official outbreak size past 25,000 – but the true number remains a mystery because of the controversial policy to only test patients in hospital and not those with mild symptoms. 

Some scientists have suggested up to half of the population may have already been infected but Government advisers suggest the figure is closer to the 2million mark.

On Thursday the government announced that it would be rolling out tests in an attempt to boost numbers on the front line.

Hospitals have been recording staff absence rates of up to 50 per cent as staff or members of their households develop symptoms which means they are forced to self-isolate as they do not know if they are safe to work.

Michael Gove, who was standing in for the prime minister at the daily briefing, said: 'Increasing our testing capacity is absolutely crucial in our response to and our fight against coronavirus.

'This is a particular priority for those who work in the health and social care sector and are working so hard to keep us all safe.'

The tests for NHS employees started with those who are critical care medics or intensive care staff but also includes those working in emergency departments, ambulance services and GPs. 

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said that as testing volumes increased the service would be expanded to cover a range of essential public workers such as social care services. 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'The Chessington site has already tested hundreds of NHS key workers since being established in recent days and will play a vital role as national COVID-19 testing infrastructure is scaled up.

GERMANY TO BEGIN ANTIBODY TESTS IN BID TO END LOCKDOWN 

Germany will give 100,000 people coronavirus antibody tests in the next few weeks as part of a major trial to get millions of workers out of lockdown.

The mass study will allow officials to determine who has already caught the deadly infection and is therefore immune to being struck down again.

British health chiefs have still yet to approve coronavirus antibody tests, despite the promises that the DIY kits would be ready for use by mid-April. 

Labour's shadow health secretary last night urged Number 10 to follow Germany's approach and roll-out antibody tests to get a grip on the outbreak. 

Jonathan Ashworth said: 'Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach.'

Public Health England's medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle last night said the 17.5million DIY antibody tests the Government had ordered were still being evaluated.  

 

'Testing is a crucial part of the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic and we have committed to boosting NHS testing to at least 25,000 a day for patients most in need, as well as testing thousands of healthcare workers a day in the near future.'

More deaths have been recorded in the UK, with 1,808 known fatalities when the individual tallies from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are counted – but the official toll is lower because it cuts off at 5pm the day before, meaning the other fatalities recorded by the devolved nations will be added in to tomorrow's count. 

Andy Burnham, a former health secretary and now Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, said ministers had implied they would have hit 25,000 tests a day by now.

He added: ‘Widespread testing is a crucial weapon in the fight against this virus, both in terms of stopping its spread in the community, reassuring the public and getting frontline staff back to work.

‘We need a national effort to help the Government hit its testing targets and that needs to start now.’

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said: ‘The Government needs to move faster on this; mass testing will help reduce the spread of the virus, better protect the key workers who are putting their lives on the line, and help the economy by allowing those who have had the virus to come out of isolation.’

Testing is particularly important for NHS staff as many are self-isolating for up to 14 days when either themselves or family members are showing virus symptoms.

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading - here is what you can and can't do. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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