Demand for coronavirus tests in England has hugely accelerated in recent weeks, with testing systems failing to have the capacity to meet requirements.
Tests in some of England’s worst affected areas were not available for many people on Wednesday (16 September), including in parts of the North West and North East, which currently have some of the highest infection rates in the country.
It was not possible to book a test in Bolton on Wednesday (16 September) morning - the area with the highest infection rates at present - along with Oadby and Wigson, Preston and Oldham.
Tests were also unavailable on the government website in the remainder of 10 local authorities with surging cases, including Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Tameside, Warrington and Knowsley.
Scientific advisors have warned that the shortage of testing capacity is affecting the ability of authorities to track the spread of the disease.
In an effort to cope with the increasing demand, the government has pledged to introduce a tiered system which will see coronavirus tests rationed in England.
The rationing plans aim to prioritise NHS patients, staff, care workers and key workers first, especially teachers, in a new booking system.
On Wednesday (16 September), Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told officials to open a hotline to allow schools to order ring-fenced test kits directly to help ensure pupils don’t miss weeks of lessons while they wait to be tested.
Schools were initially provided with 10 testing kits at the start of term, but will now be able to order more from a Department for Education hotline.
Whitehall sources have said that the tiered system would follow a similar pattern to testing at the start of the pandemic, with NHS patients with respiratory conditions at the top of the list, while healthcare staff and education will also be prioritised.
The government is due to publish a new testing strategy next week, detailing plans for more laboratory testing and faster results.
The tiered prioritisation list for testing is expected to be published within days.
Increased daily testing
The recent shortage of testing has prompted the Prime Minister to admit there is currently not enough capacity in England, but Mr Johnson has now reiterated his promise to increase daily testing capacity 500,000 tests by the end of October.
Speaking before the Commons liaison committee, Mr Johnson also admitted that the plan to return to greater normality through the mass use of near instant tests was still “a long way off”.
It is hoped that a new prioritisation list will help to prevent the backlog of testing spiral further out of control before new laboratory capacity becomes available and the winter flu season begins.