'Hundreds' more walk-in coronavirus testing sites to open by October

UK will open ‘hundreds’ of walk-in coronavirus testing sites by October with aim of making everyone in towns and cities just a half-hour walk away

  • They will complement the 50 regional testing sites currently open in England
  • People in rural areas should eventually be within a half hour’s drive by year-end
  • Comes amid poor testing uptake and fears Test and Trace not working properly 

Everyone living in cities and large towns in England will be within a half-hour walk of a Covid-19 testing site by winter, under new Government plans.

NHS chiefs say ‘several hundred’ walk-in centres will be up and running by the end of October, in preparation for a second wave of the epidemic in the colder months. 

They will complement the 50 regional testing sites currently open in England, as well as the home-ordering testing service.

All people living in rural areas should eventually be within a half hour’s drive of testing site by later this year under the plans.  

It comes as official figures show less than half of people swabbed for Covid-19 are receiving their results within 24 hours and only about a third of the 1,700 people suspected of catching Covid-19 actually go for a test.

Data for the week up to July 15 show just 46.8 per cent of people getting results within 24 hours, down from 50.6 per cent the previous week.

Boris Johnson promised that the country would be able to turn all tests around within a day by the end of June. 

Everyone living in cities and large towns in England will be within a half-hour walk of a Covid-19 testing site by winter. An NHS worker goes through the testing procedure at a centre in Salford

But figures show that just a third of people have had tests back in that timeframe since testing became available to the masses.

The worst results are among those conducted at home, with just one in 20 people getting a diagnosis the next day. Courier delivery times are one of the main reasons behind the delays.     

NHS bosses believe making testing sites more accessible will boost the number of people who show up for a swab. 

The plans come amid increasing concern that the NHS Test and Trace system is failing to reach people in the most high-risk areas in England.

Experts say language barriers are one of the main factors behind the low success rates, as many of England’s worst-affected areas have high numbers of residents from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.

NHS Test and Trace is failing in areas with high BAME populations

NHS Test and Trace is still failing to track down up to half of Covid-19 patients’ contacts in areas most at risk of local lockdowns, it emerged last night.

Experts say language barriers are one of the main factors behind the low success rates, as many of England’s worst-affected areas have high numbers of residents from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.

In Luton, which has the fifth highest infection rate in England, just 47 per cent of potentially-infected people were contacted by the system since its launch on May 28.

A fifth of the population in the Bedfordshire town do not speak English as their first language, according to Statista.

Only 65 per cent of close contacts in Leicester – which had to retreat back into lockdown last month after a spike in cases – were tracked down by tracers.  

It means 3,340 people who may have had the disease in the city slipped under the radar and could have spread it further through the population. For more than a quarter of people in Leicester (27.5 per cent), English is not their native language.

Scientists have repeatedly warned contact tracing systems need to catch and isolate 80 per cent of potential Covid-19 patients to keep the epidemic squashed.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘The language barrier certainly will have been an issue, people might not necessarily understand what the tracers are asking or why it is important they hand over contact information.’

In Luton, which has the fifth highest infection rate in England, just 47 per cent of potentially-infected people were contacted by the system since its launch on May 28.

A fifth of the population in the Bedfordshire town do not speak English as their first language, according to Statista.

Only 65 per cent of close contacts in Leicester – which had to retreat back into lockdown last month after a spike in cases – were tracked down by tracers.

It means 3,340 people who may have had the disease in the city slipped under the radar and could have spread it further through the population. For more than a quarter of people in Leicester (27.5 per cent), English is not their native language.

Scientists have repeatedly warned contact tracing systems need to catch and isolate 80 per cent of potential Covid-19 patients to keep the epidemic squashed.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘The language barrier certainly will have been an issue, people might not necessarily understand what the tracers are asking or why it is important they hand over contact information.’

Gabriel Scally, professor of public health at the university of Bristol and a member of ‘Independent SAGE’, said this breakdown in communication had led to a breakdown of trust. 

He told MailOnline: ‘People from BAME groups make up a high proportion of the populations in many of these cities and towns. For many, English is not their first language. This leads to communication and trust issues. 

‘The Government should devolve contact tracing powers locally to people who understand their communities, and the cultures within them, better. On a regional level it’s easier to involve communities in the whole case finding and isolating process.’

Local councilors and public health officials are now demanding more control over the test and trace process on the back of the ‘very concerning’ figures.

They say devolving power to local authorities could allow them to do door-to-door visits if contacts cannot be reached by other means.   

Meanwhile, experts have demanded for weeks that ministers set out a clear strategy to prevent a second Covid-19 wave amid fears it could kill triple the number of Brits as the first outbreak.

A report done on behalf of  Number 10’s chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance in June warned of at least 120,000 more deaths this winter in a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’. 

But the grim prediction only looked at hospital deaths and did not factor in fatalities in care homes – which have accounted for a third of the near-45,000 lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths so far. 

The report laid out 20 steps the UK Government must take to mitigate the chance of the deadly resurgence – including stocking up on PPE, vaccinating millions more Britons against the flu and rapidly improving contact tracing.

But the Royal College of GPs claimed medics have been left in limbo without clear guidance about how they should get ready for a second influx of coronavirus patients. 

Although the Government is yet to lay out exactly how it plans to prevent a second wave, it has introduced several measures to ease the burden of a potential resurgence.

The Prime Minister announced last week the Nightingale Hospitals, built in case ICU wards were overflown with Covid-19 patients during the first wave, are being kept on standby through the winter.

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