Schoolchildren and their parents could be prioritised for coronavirus tests – after hospitals and care homes – as the government deals with “real challenges” in the system, a cabinet minister has told Sky News.
The government has come under growing pressure over a lack of availability of COVID-19 tests in some areas – blamed on problems with laboratory capacity – and admitted it could take a “matter of weeks” to solve the issues.
MPs have been told that coronavirus tests are now having to be prioritised, while the government has also hinted at a possible future further rationing of tests.
Speaking to Sky News presenter Kay Burley on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland stressed the prioritisation of testing for some groups was “the right thing to do”.
Currently anyone who displays coronavirus symptoms can get an NHS test, as well as those who have been asked to get a test by a hospital or local council.
Mr Buckland said: “The announcement by [Health Secretary] Matt Hancock yesterday to create a prioritisation thing is the right thing to do – he’s going to develop that very quickly over the next few days to explain to us what that looks like.”
Mr Hancock on Tuesday told MPs that hospitals and care homes would be prioritised for COVID-19 tests.
And Mr Buckland suggested school pupils and their parents could be next in line for testing.
“It has to be the NHS first and then social care, and then I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be,” he said.
“For me, our priority should be children in school and their parents in order to make sure their lives are safe and also, importantly, they’re not disrupted in the way that we’re seeing.”
Mr Buckland insisted the government had “accepted the scale of the challenge” over testing ahead of a possible second wave of coronavirus infections this winter, as he pointed to the number of test centres being increased from 400 to 500.
“We’re ramping up the test centres, we have increased laboratory capacity – new labs coming on stream so we can get that quick turnaround,” he said.
“At all times, the prime minister and all of us were absolutely focused on the dangers of a second wave.
“We’ve seen what’s happening in France.
“We’re absolutely on to this in terms of understanding through the autumn – if we’re to get the balance between getting the economy back on track and getting our children back into school – then all of us now have a special responsibility to follow all those guidelines and do whatever it takes to beat this virus.”
Number 10 confirmed that details of the new prioritisation of coronavirus testing would be published this week.