UK doubles offering lateral flow tests as Omicron cases soar
The UK Health Security Agency has agreed a deal with Royal Mail to increase distribution of Covid-19 test kits after a spike in demand as a result of the Omicron wave flooded the online booking platform. government for three consecutive days.
About 900,000 home deliveries of both PCR and side-flow test kits will be available each day from Saturday, double the current level. Approximately 2/3 of the kits will contain lateral flow tests.
The UK’s testing program has struggled to meet demand for rapid Covid testing after the government announced it was changing self-isolation rules for dual-vaccinated people identified as closely related to the Omicron case. As of Tuesday, they were able to avoid isolation by experimenting with side flow devices (LFDs) every day for seven days.
Earlier this week, UKHSA said the LFD ordering website had been “temporarily suspended to accommodate existing orders”, citing “particularly high demand”. After the announcement on Wednesday night, the tests are once again available through the website.
The supply of LFDs to pharmacies will also double, to more than 10 million a week, and bookings at PCR testing sites will increase to 100,000 a day from Thursday, UKHSA said. It added that it has increased the laboratory capacity for PCR testing up to 150,000 tests per day
“To ensure a good supply of tests in the coming weeks,” the agency said, it is also procuring hundreds of millions more lateral flow tests.
According to health officials, it is still possible to pause ordering or collecting tests in the coming weeks because of exceptionally high demand.
As the UK battles the rapidly growing wave of Omicrons, Covid cases have skyrocketed on Wednesday to 78,610 in the latest 24-hour period, the highest daily number recorded throughout the pandemic. According to UKHSA, the true number of infections is at least 200,000 a day and could rise to 1 million a day in the coming weeks.
Tim Peto, a professor of medicine at Oxford University who has led government-funded studies of LFDs, welcomed the increase in deliveries, predicting that the UK would become “highly dependent” more” into rapid tests when Omicron increases sharply. “The PCR capabilities are much more limited,” says Peto. “Side flow testing will be easier to deal with high numbers from Omicron.”
But Peto and other scientists say testing alone won’t be enough to cut the chain of transmission in the face of the highly contagious variant of Omicron.
Professor Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “While it is right now to focus on providing tests, we are not ignore the threat to the functioning of society because so many workers fall ill and have to be isolated”. He called on the government to activate the “immediate circuit breaker” lock.
Sajid Javid, UK Health Secretary, has insisted all week that there is “no shortage of tests”, and told MPs in the House of Commons on Monday that “tens of millions of tests are in stock and in stock”. million will come every week.”
He welcomed the expansion of the test offering service, acknowledging that “demand for tests is increasing with the emergence of the Omicron variant”.