Lateral flow test kits ran out again today as the system struggled to cope with unprecedented demand with Britons scrambling to find out if they have Covid-19.
Today was the fourth day in a row that the Government has paused online orders of lateral flow devices, but it came amid a drive to send out 900,000 test kits each day.
Twice as many tests will be soon be delivered daily, with about 400,000 sent out every day this week after the emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
While tests were still available to order in the early hours of this morning, by 8.14am there were no more. People are instead encouraged to pick up one from a pharmacy.
Today, those trying to order a test on the Government website saw a message that said: ‘Sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for rapid lateral flow tests right now.
‘You can still pick up rapid lateral flow tests from a pharmacy or collection point today. Only pick up tests if you do not have symptoms.’
The message also said that the 119 service ‘does not have access to more home delivery slots right now’, adding: ‘You cannot order tests from NHS 111 or 999.’
The website also suggested: ‘If you have tests at home, including ones that children have brought home from school, you can use these instead.’
The lack of availability left Britons frustrated, with one from Bexhill-on-Sea in East Sussex tweeting: ‘Feeling a bit hopeless today. No booster before Christmas, no availability of lateral flow tests in my area… fed up with all this now.’
Today was the fourth day in a row that the Government has paused lateral flow test orders
Britons can pick up lateral flow tests for free from a pharmacy listed on the NHS website
Another Twitter user, referring to vaccine passports, said: ‘No lateral flow tests available again… so unvaxxed are already now barred from events.’
It comes amid warnings that PCR testing labs are likely to be ‘overwhelmed’ by demand within days as Ministers desperately try to increase testing capacity.
How can you get a lateral flow test?
How can I pick up a lateral flow test?
You can pick up tests for free from a pharmacy or other collection point, which is the quickest way to get one for most people.
Visit the NHS website by clicking here, where you can find your local site. You can then click on ‘get a collect code’, and you are given a code to give to that centre.
How can I order a lateral flow test?
You can order a lateral flow test kit online by clicking here, although the NHS asks people to only order online if they cannot pick up a test.
When should I do a lateral flow test?
The NHS advises you should take a lateral flow tests on ‘days when you’re more likely to catch or spread Covid-19’, such as before you mix with people in crowded indoor places, or visit someone who is at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19.
Double jabbed adults are also now being asked to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days if they come into contact with someone with Covid-19.
When can you get a PCR test?
You can order a free PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site, by clicking here.
You should get one if you have any of the main three Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a new and continuous cough or you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or they’ve changed.
The Government says that if you have no symptoms you can also get a PCR test kit if:
- you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive and you must self-isolate
- you’ve been asked to get a test by a local council or someone from NHS Test and Trace
- a GP or other health professional has asked you to get a test
- you’re taking part in a government pilot project
- you’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result
- you’ve received an unclear result and were told to get a second test
- you need to get a test for someone you live with who has symptoms
- you’re in the National Tactical Response Group
When do you have to isolate?
New guidance which came into force yesterday says that fully vaccinated people who are in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case should take a rapid lateral flow test every day for a week to help slow the spread of the virus.
People who test positive or develop symptoms are still required to isolate, as are unvaccinated people who are ‘not eligible for this new daily testing policy’.
One Cambridge University academic who advises the Government on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned of ‘huge disruption’.
The professor, Sir David Spiegelhalter, told Times Radio: ‘It’s quite clear that millions of people are going to catch this. It’s quite plausible that the labs will be overwhelmed and actually that people won’t be able to get their PCRs on time.’
Official figures reported by the Daily Telegraph show average PCR daily capacity in January was at 794,778, while the average in December so far is at 790,693.
Officials paused new orders on Monday, blaming distribution problems rather than a shortage of tests.
Under an agreement with Royal Mail they now hope to double capacity to 900,000 daily deliveries of home-testing kits, including PCR and lateral flow devices, from Saturday.
And high street chemists, who were reported to have run low of stocks this week, will be able to order 10.5 million tests a week, almost double the current maximum of 5.5 million.
The test shortages raised fears that close contacts of Covid sufferers would be forced to stay home. Under new rules, they can take daily tests instead of isolating.
As well as the boost to home-testing, more appointments will be opened up for PCR tests at walk-in sites.
High demand meant there were no spare slots anywhere in England at one stage on Tuesday.
Appointments were also scarce in London and across south-east England yesterday.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last night: ‘I’m delighted that Royal Mail is expanding our distribution service which will mean over 900,000 PCR and LFD [lateral flow device] test kits can be delivered to homes across the country every single day.
‘It’s vital we all play our part in the national effort to tackle Omicron by getting tested if we have symptoms and using LFDs daily if we’re a close contact of a case.’
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, added: ‘This huge operational effort will mean that almost one million people will benefit from ordering Covid-19 tests directly to their homes, every day.
‘I want to thank everybody at the Royal Mail for their incredible response helping us deliver this massive effort at their busiest time of the year.’
It comes as Chris Whitty called for limits on socialising last night despite Mr Johnson insisting festive plans should not be cancelled over Omicron.
In a sign of the divisions between scientists and No 10, the chief medical officer gave a downbeat assessment of the Covid variant, warning of a huge surge in cases.
He cautioned against reports that Omicron was a milder strain, said a ‘substantial’ rise in hospitalisations was ‘nailed on’ and warned the NHS could face serious staff shortages as doctors and nurses fell ill.
Professor Whitty issued a clear message on Christmas socialising, suggesting people should ‘prioritise’ and not meet friends if they hoped to see their families. He added: ‘Don’t mix with people you don’t have to.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street in London yesterday
But, speaking at a tense press conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister struck a markedly more upbeat tone, hailing record booster jab figures as evidence of a ‘great national fightback’ against Omicron.
Third dose rates were double those in the EU, he said, adding: ‘Let’s keep going. Let’s carry on giving Omicron both barrels. Let’s slow its spread and give the vaccines more time.’
He urged care when seeing loved ones and friends – including taking a test before meeting anyone vulnerable – but insisted there was no need to limit Christmas activities.
‘We are not cancelling events or closing hospitality,’ he said. ‘We are not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix. What we are saying is think carefully before you go about what kind of event it is.
‘Are you likely to meet people who are vulnerable? Get a test, make sure there is ventilation, wear a mask on transport.’
Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson would not hesitate to impose further restrictions if necessary, despite being rocked on Tuesday night by a revolt of 100 Tory MPs over the introduction of Plan B measures such as Covid passports.
No 10 said MPs, who depart for their Christmas break tonight, would be recalled to legislate for new curbs if needed. Downing Street hopes the country can get through Christmas without the need for further sweeping restrictions.
But Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, told MPs that Omicron was ‘probably the most significant threat’ since the start of the pandemic – and warned that case numbers were likely to hit ‘staggering’ levels.
Professor Graham Medley, one of the Government’s leading modelling experts, said there was a ‘very real possibility’ the NHS would be overwhelmed next month.
Dr Nikki Kanani, director of primary care for the NHS, urged football fans not to attend stadiums this weekend unless it’s to ‘get a jab’ at a pop-up site.