The Government’s new online system for booking coronavirus tests closed just hours after opening today as Ministers raced to meet their 100,000 daily target.
Some ten million key workers and their households are now eligible for the tests, but applications shut at 10am, with the website saying people could no longer register.
That came just 90 minutes after people were told at 8.30am that today’s allocation of home kits had been issued – and they could only apply for drive-through testing.
Others took to social media earlier to complain that the process was ‘not simple’ or that they could not find a category for their job role, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock claiming the process was straightforward and ‘a bit like booking a flight’.
And some people got an error message saying there is a ‘problem with your order’, asking them to contact the system’s service desk on a freephone number. It comes after the Government revealed coding for the website was only finished yesterday.
Mr Hancock said that people whose work is critical to the Covid-19 response, and those they live with, will be able to register for a test if they have symptoms.
NHS staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, journalists and those who work in supermarkets and food production are among those eligible.
Applications for tests shut at 10am, with the website saying people could no longer register
Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at Downing Street in Westminster this morning
The website had already been telling key workers as early as 8.30am today that today’s allocation of home kits had been issued – and they could only apply for drive-through testing
Some people got an error message saying there is a ‘problem with your order’, asking them to contact the service desk on a freephone number
But mother-of-two Kama Phillips, from Plymouth, Devon, tweeted: ‘Tried to book a Covid test as I’m classed as a key worker and can send my children to school as our hardware store has been classed as essential and wasn’t allowed to shut.
‘When trying to book there’s no category for my job role, so which is it? What category should I fall under?’
Twitter user Phill Dunn added: ‘Not a simple process to book an essential worker Covid-19 test. Website sends you around all avenues, never did find the link.’
And Darren Peers tweeted: ‘It’s so hard to arrange a test on gov.uk. My wife is an essential worker who is a courier and her workload has doubled.
‘She is self employed and there is no option for this also to include your family. There is only an option for employers.’
The first stage of the coronavirus testing application on the gov.uk website is pictured above
Key workers were asked whether they wanted to visit a regional site or request a home test kit
Meanwhile there were claims that the drive-through testing centre at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey had lost some test results of NHS staff.
Results were also allegedly sent to the wrong person, with some doctors and nurses raising the alarm when their results never arrived, reported the Guardian.
There were also claims by the newspaper that the test centre could not call through with the diagnosis because it had failed to record correct phone numbers.
The Department for Health said last night that 49 people had faced delays and 39 had now got their results. Officials are still investigating the remaining number.
The site has been operated privately by the accounting firm Deloitte, which said it was hired to ‘help accelerate and scale testing capacity’.
Key workers are tested for Covid-19 at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey yesterday
Staff put up a banner as people arrive for tests at Chessington World of Adventures yesterday
The announcement over testing came as researchers at the University of Oxford began human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate. In other news:
- The number of people who have died with coronavirus in UK hospitals rose by 638 to 18,738 as at 5pm on Wednesday, but the total toll is likely to be several thousand higher when those who have died in care homes and the community are included.
- Ministers came under further pressure to set out the Government’s lockdown exit strategy after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the lifting of restrictions north of the border would be a phased process.
- US president Donald Trump said Boris Johnson sounded ‘ready to go’ when they spoke on the phone this week, following reports in the Telegraph that the Prime Minister is preparing to return to work on Monday.
- Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford will on Friday set out seven key questions which will determine when restrictions can be lifted.
- The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the evidence on face masks ‘has always been quite variable, quite weak and difficult to know’, as ministers review the recommendations of Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
- Two RAF aircraft carrying mostly gowns but also masks and gloves arrived from Turkey at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Thursday night and early on Friday morning.
- The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their three children joined in the nationwide weekly clap for carers on Thursday, as more than £27 million was donated during BBC One’s charity special The Big Night In, with the Government promising to double the total.
Mr Hancock said the new online booking system will be key to the Government reaching its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: ‘Not as many people have been coming for (a test) as we had expected.
‘Of course that was a problem but it’s a good problem because it means we’ve been able to expand who can get a test faster than we had planned.’
Mr Hancock said results of the Covid-19 test for most people would be available within 24 hours, but for some it would take a little longer.
He said the Government was also introducing home test kits that are then collected by a courier to prevent people having to travel long distances.
‘They will start in small numbers but that service will grow, and I think that will be a popular service as it increasingly becomes available.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today (above) that he was ‘carefully’ watching to ensure the website could handle the expected online traffic
Mr Hancock said there had been fewer people coming forward for a test than expected, but blamed this on the complexity of the booking process before the new online system was introduced.
Who are essential workers and how can they get tested for Covid-19?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that key workers and anyone in their household will now be eligible for tests if they have symptoms of coronavirus.
But who are essential workers and how can they get tested?
– Who can be tested?
The Government has said that the priority will still be to test patients, but in England essential workers with symptoms of coronavirus and the people who live with essential workers and have symptoms will be able to be tested from Friday. Essential workers who are self-isolating can also be registered and referred for coronavirus testing by their employer from Thursday. Testing is most effective within three days of symptoms – a high temperature or new continuous cough – developing, the Government added.
– What are essential workers?
The Government has published a list of essential workers which includes all NHS and social care staff from doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers and carers to support staff and supply chain workers. Workers such as teachers, firefighters, local and national government staff, supermarket staff, police and delivery drivers are just some of the other roles included on the list.
– How do I arrange a test?
Essential workers will be able to enter their details at www.gov.uk/coronavirus and then receive an email or text the same day inviting them to book at test. They will be able to choose between booking an appointment at one of more than 30 regional drive-through test site or being sent a home test kit. But the Government has stressed these kit numbers will initially be limited, so it is encouraging people to attend a regional test site if they can. People who cannot go online can book a test through their employer, Mr Hancock said.
– Where will the tests take place?
The Government said it is planning to open 50 drive-through testing sites by the end of April with the aim that most people will not have to drive for more than 45 minutes to get to a regional testing site. A delivery service for home testing kits has been designed with industry partners, including Royal Mail and Amazon. A network of new mobile testing units designed by Army engineers is being set up to travel to care homes, police stations, prisons and other sites where there is demand for testing. Packages of satellite test kits will also be sent directly to care homes across England to enable testing of symptomatic residents.
– What does the test involve?
The test involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, and can be done by the person themselves or by someone else.
– What happens next?
Completed samples will be sent to a testing laboratory where they are analysed. The Government said that it is aiming for tests from drive-through sites to be sent out by text within 48 hours and home testing kit results within 72 hours of collection. People will be given advice on any next steps that need to be taken after receiving their results.
‘Previously you had to go through your employer because we didn’t have this IT system in place.
‘All of this was being built as we go and the IT for the system we launched today only got finished yesterday.’
He added: ‘(Previously) you had to go through your employer and your employer then had to apply – now you can just go online.’
Mr Hancock said employers can still book on behalf of their staff if that is the easiest route.
Mr Hancock also said today that the contact tracing operation would be functioning in a ‘matter of weeks’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It will be up and running in a matter of weeks and the 18,000 we plan to recruit is really just the start.
‘Because the combination of mass testing and contact tracing alongside it, both with people doing the contact tracing and with technology, a new app that will help to identify who people have been close to – these things are so crucial to holding down the rate and level of transmission of the disease.
‘They work far better when there are fewer new cases but, if they work as they have done in other countries, then they will be able to hold down the number of new cases with fewer social distancing restrictions, which is why they are so important to get in place in large scale.’
Earlier on Good Morning Britain, Mr Hancock said he was ‘carefully’ watching to ensure the website could handle the expected online traffic.
He said: ‘As with all ‘switch-ons’ of IT systems, that’s always a moment when you’re running it that you concentrate on it very carefully, shall I put it that way?
‘That switch-on has gone live this morning.’
Mr Hancock added that the number of test centres available was being expanded from 30 to 50 and said a home testing kit would become available.
He said: ‘We are also introducing home tests, in small numbers at first, and we will ramp that up so you can get the test posted to your home, you self-administer it – you follow a video that is on the internet and the instructions on the test – a courier then comes and picks up your test, takes it back to our labs and you get the result.
‘We are absolutely dealing with that access issue.’
Mr Hancock set out his plans for ‘easier, faster and simpler’ testing so that more people can access a Covid-19 test to tell them whether they have the virus.
He said people can register for a test on the gov.uk website.
People will then receive a text or email with an appointment at a drive-through centre or can request a home test kit, although the latter are currently in limited supply.
A help desk has been established to aid the process, while mobile units run by the Army are travelling around the country to where they are needed, such as care homes.
Test results from the drive-through sites will be sent out by text within 48 hours, and within 72 hours of collection of the home delivery tests.
At the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Hancock said the capacity for carrying out tests was now ‘ahead of our plans’, with the ability to carry out more than 51,000 tests a day.
‘Because capacity has now increased so substantially, we are now able to expand who can get the tests,’ he said.
‘Our ultimate goal is that everyone who could benefit from a test gets a test.’
Essential workers will be able to book coronavirus tests direct, while companies will also be able to book them for employees.
It comes as the UK marked a month in lockdown this week, with a review of the restrictions next due to take place on May 7.