LONDON — Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted Wednesday that the British government faces “real challenges” to get its widely scrutinized test-and-trace system working successfully, adding that officials would do “whatever it takes” to provide people with better access to testing, amid the threat of a second outbreak of the coronavirus.
Buckland’s comments come as thousands reported having to travel hundreds of miles to test centers, while others have been denied access or had hours of lining up for tests.
An investigation by national radio station LBC this week revealed that there were no tests available in any of England’s top 10 virus hot spots, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing that a “world beating” service would be available by June.
Some swabs are being sent to be processed in Italy and Germany because of the strain on the system, British media reported this week.
Buckland told Sky News that laboratories across the country had been inundated and that “capacity has been an issue,” but echoed recent remarks by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said Tuesday that some groups may need to be prioritized to deal with demand on the system, including care homes and hospitals.
Buckland said schoolchildren and parents would be next in line for testing.
Hancock sparked further criticism last week by saying that people who are not experiencing symptoms should not request tests, estimating that about 25 percent of those seeking swabs were “not eligible.” He cited schools in particular that wanted to be tested.
Some opposition Labour Party lawmakers swiftly pointed out that officials and scientists had recently blamed young and often asymptomatic people for spreading the virus that has claimed more than 41,700 lives in the country.