LONDON (AP) — The British government’s new online system for “key workers” and their families to book appointments for coronavirus tests got off to an inauspicious start Friday.
Barely three hours after launching, the link stopped accepting applications for the day following “exceptional demand” and said more tests at drive-through sites and for home delivery will be made available Saturday. Around 10 million people could now potentially apply for a test.
Clicking on the link, aspiring applicants were greeted with the brief message: “Coronavirus test: capacity reached for today.”
In a tweet, the Department of Health and Social Care apologized for any inconvenience and said it is “continuing to rapidly increase availability.”
The self-referral site is a key element of the government’s plan to meet a target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, and will likely play a big role in how lockdown restrictions, which are due to last until at least May 7, are lifted.
For now, changes to the lockdown are not being considered given that the U.K.’s coronavirus-related death toll in hospitals is fast approaching 20,000 .
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said that within two minutes of the portal’s opening, 5,000 home-testing kits had been ordered — the day’s capacity — and that another 15,000 slots at drive-through sites had also been snapped up. It said the aim is for 18,000 home tests available each day by next week with them arriving the following day and results sent back within 72 hours.
On Thursday, following weeks of criticism around testing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced a step-change in the strategy — essential workers and their families could apply for a test if they show coronavirus-like symptoms.
In addition to those working directly in the National Health Service and in care homes, the swab tests are available to an array of other workers, including prison staff, delivery drivers and journalists covering the pandemic.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied that the government over-promised when opening up the testing program when the number of tests available on its first day was so limited. He also stressed that the tests are only for those who thought they may have the virus.
He also told the government’s daily press briefing that hitting the target was “quite likely” but that getting “somewhere near” would be an achievement by international standards.
Government figures Friday showed that progress has been made but that it’s still well short of target with just six days to go. In the last day before the self-referral site was launched, the number of daily tests increased by around 5,000 to 28,532.
The NHS is also moving to roll out a smartphone contact-tracing app “in the coming weeks.” Like testing, this could help manage infections after the lockdown is eased. The app will measure how close users come to other devices using Bluetooth, keep an anonymous log of the data on the phone and advise users what to do if they come close to someone with symptoms.
The British government also said another 684 people with the coronavirus have died in U.K. hospitals, taking the total to 19,506. The increase was up slightly on the 616 deaths recorded in the previous 24-hour period. The U.K.’s death toll in hospitals is the fourth highest in Europe, behind those of Italy, Spain and France, each of which has reported more than 20,000 deaths.
Jill Lawless and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.
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