Business groups have stepped up calls for the UK government to “grasp” the shortage of Covid-19 rapid tests, warning that they are vital to keeping the economy on track.
Roger Barker, policy director at the Institute of Directors, said the government should make it easier for companies to allow employees to take the daily test. He added: “Clearly there are currently issues with the provision of lateral flow tests that make this infeasible. Therefore, the government urgently needs to address the current supply shortage.”
“It is important now that the challenges of broader testing supply are addressed,” said Matthew Fell, CBI’s head of policy.
The government launched a end of April program to provide free tests companies for their employees, but it was scrapped just three months later. Several business groups have asked for the program to be revived. The Make UK Producers Association said: “We want free party tests available to employers so they have that option if they want to introduce themselves.
Craig Beaumont, foreign affairs director for the Federation of Small Businesses, has urged the government to get a “grip” to arrange the delivery of lateral flow tests. “The online LFT site has now been down for over a week, without any deadline or even a vague purpose for it to return,” he said. “With pharmacies running low and the workplace testing program shutting down, the entire testing infrastructure is falling apart. This takes a bit of a grip to deal with. “
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday announced that around 100,000 key workers in a number of industries – “from food processing to shipping to the Border Force” – would have to undergo daily Covid-19 tests. assigned by the government. Officials said the relevant recruiters would be contacted in the coming days, with details of the plan still being finalised.
Businesses operating in sectors such as transportation have been asked to provide relevant government agencies with data on the number of employees needed to keep critical services up and running. will help determine the allocation of tests, according to Whitehall officials with knowledge of the discussions.
Unions called for more clarification on the practicality of the plan, which is expected to go into effect next week. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says there are already more than 100,000 workers in the three areas Johnson highlighted.
“The ambiguity of this announcement is astounding. Once again the government is guilty of issuing confusing advice that causes anxiety and distress to potentially affected workers,” she said. “There is a need to quickly and completely clarify which workers will or will not be labeled as important.”
Meanwhile, Johnson announced on Wednesday that from 4am on Friday, visitors to the UK will no longer have to take a pre-departure test. He added that travelers will be able to do lateral flow testing instead of PCR on the second day after they arrive, eliminating the requirement to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR result.
Heathrow Airport welcomed the news, saying it represented a “much-needed boost to passengers”.
Coronavirus testing rules in the UK will also be relaxed next week, as concerns grow about the country’s testing capacity and the continued impact of staff shortages on vital public services.
Under the changes announced by the UK Health Security Agency on Wednesday, starting January 11, individuals who are asymptomatic but test positive on a lateral flow meter will be required to require reporting and self-isolation but will no longer be advised to monitor-up PCR testing.
A health official told the Financial Times the move would free up “additional testing capacity” as PCR testing systems come under pressure due to soaring infection rates.