Millions of key workers are facing a rush to secure a coronavirus test this morning as applications re-open after a ‘significant’ surge in demand yesterday.
Some 5,000 home kits and 19,000 drive-through tests are expected to be made available on Saturday – with key workers asked to fill out an online application form as the government races to hit its 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday.
Many will be trying to secure a test for the second time after the government’s new website had to close hours after launching on Friday as 46,000 people tried to access it.
Ten million key workers and their households are now eligible for the tests, but within two minutes of the website going live at 6am on Friday, all 5,000 tests for people to do at home had been booked.
Meanwhile, more than 15,000 appointments for tests at drive-through centres were also taken quickly, forcing the Department of Health to apologise on Twitter ‘for any inconvenience’ and close applications.
A NHS worker issues instructions at a COVID-19 drive through test station at Northampton General Hospital yesterday
Home kits and regional tests were available on the government website on the government website at 8.10am today
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps apologised after the new government website was closed due to ‘significant demand’.
He told the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference that reports the website had crashed were not accurate and it was ‘simply that the slots for today were taken up’.
He insisted the government is confident every key worker who needs a test will soon be able to access one as ministers strive to hit a 100,000 daily tests target by the end of April.
‘We know what the capacity is, we don’t quite know how many people would want to be tested because many people working for the NHS for example will have already accessed those tests through their work places,’ he said.
How do you arrange a coronavirus test?
ARRANGING YOUR OWN
Essential workers who are self-isolating can book a test directly here. You can select a regional test site drive-through appointment or home test kit.
The Department of Health said home test kit availability will initially be limited but more will become available. However, it said there is good availability of regional test sites.
Those who face problems on the website can call the service desk on 0300 303 2713, from 8am to 8pm.
BEING REFERRED FOR ONE
Another way essential workers can get tested is by being referred by their employer through a new portal, if they are already self-isolating.
It is a secure portal for employers to use to upload the full list of names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers.
If referred, essential workers will get a text message with a unique code to book a test for themselves or family members at a regional testing site.
Mr Shapps said things will soon ‘settle down’ after ‘46,000 people went to the portal first thing today’.
‘There are some more slots opening up right now as I am speaking and there will be more slots tomorrow and in the days after,’ he added.
He also stressed the test was only suitable for those who think they currently have coronavirus, not those who think they’ve previously had it.
Ministers say that UK testing capacity is currently at 51,000 a day – including tests within the NHS and care homes – and they are hoping to be able to provide 18,000 home test kits by the end of April.
No 10 said 5,000 home kits – the total on offer – were ordered online this morning. Ministers expected another 15,000 tests to take place at drive-through sites today.
Under the scheme, 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.
Separately, key workers who are self-isolating can also now get tested by being referred by their employer through a new portal, which went live at midnight.
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘Within two minutes of the portal opening this morning, 5,000 testing kits had been ordered. And that’s the available capacity for today.’
Number 10 also said the Government is trusting that those applying for tests are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.
The spokesman said: ‘As with many other aspects of the coronavirus response, we would expect the public to respond in good faith.
‘That is what they have done with other aspects of the scheme, I think we’d expect it to be the same here.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed this evening that some 46,000 people had tried to book a coronavirus test yesterday morning
On testing for other groups, they added: ‘We want the capacity that we have in the system to be used and you can see this morning that the system is working, people are booking slots and now they are going to be able to undergo tests.’
Asked whether the Government was confident people would be able to test themselves accurately with a kit sent to their homes, the spokesman added: ‘There are videos available to show people how to do this and people will be given clear instructions. We would hope they would be able to do this, yes.’
Timeline of the key worker testing website’s launch on Friday
- 8am: New online system for booking coronavirus tests for key workers goes live
- 8.02am: 5,000 home test kits are all taken up
- 8.30am: Website says it is no longer taking home test kit orders
- 10am: 19,000 drive-through test appointments are taken up
- 8am: Another 5,000 home test kits and 19,000 drive-through test appointements go live
Earlier, some people took to Twitter 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 users 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.
A DoH spokesman tweeted at about 11am today: ‘There has been significant demand for booking tests today. We apologise for any inconvenience. We are continuing to rapidly increase availability. More tests will be available tomorrow.’
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.
But among those failing to get a test was MailOnline reader Merida, 39, of Glasgow, who said: ‘I applied one minute after midnight and never got texted.
‘We keep reapplying and get nothing sent to us. My husband is a teacher, I have potentially had Covid and still do after five or six weeks. This is ridiculous.
‘We have a three-year-old who cannot go to nursery because of all of this. Wasting hundreds of pounds a month.
‘Cannot get Universal Credit due to husband’s income, I lost business due to Covid and no help as business is 11 months old. We needed that test.’
She later added at 11am: ‘Just got the text and found a slot for tomorrow. Took hours though. Very bizarre.’
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
And 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?’
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 announcement over testing came as researchers at the University of Oxford began human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate.