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Lateral flow and PCR tests run out as cases hit record-high of 183,000

Testing chaos as lateral flow and PCRs are STILL unavailable after days of shortages even as UK cases hit record-high of 183,000 – but No10 tells New Year revellers to party on regardless and if you can’t get a negative result just ‘be cautious’

  • Rapid swab kits were not available online and pharmacies said they ran out too
  • Appointments for drive-through and walk-in tests were unavailable for hours
  • No10 said people could celebrate if unable to get a test, but should be cautious
  • Sajid Javid privately admitted there ‘isn’t a quick fix’ to ongoing supply problems

Lateral flow tests were unavailable for a third day and PCR tests ran out as a dire shortage hit the UK amid Covid cases reaching a record-high of 183,000 yesterday.

Boris Johnson earlier urged people to get tested before celebrating with friends and family after confirming on Monday that no new Covid restrictions would be brought in for New Year’s Eve festivities. 

But rapid swab kits were not available online and pharmacies warned they had run out too. Appointments for drive-through and walk-in Covid tests were unavailable for hours on Wednesday – even for doctors, nurses and carers.

As the UK reported 183,037 virus cases, there were fears the supply crisis could stop staff taking tests to leave self-isolation and return to work. NHS bosses warned personnel shortages could be exacerbated.

The lack of tests will also make it harder for people to know whether they have the virus before ringing in 2022 with loved ones.

But the Prime Minister told New Year revellers to party on regardless, saying that not having a negative Covid result just means being vigilant. 

A No10 source told The Times that people could still celebrate if they were unable to get a test, but should just exercise caution.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said that Sajid Javid admitted there ‘isn’t a quick fix’ to ongoing supply problems amid a ‘global shortage’.

A government official also warned that Britons will soon struggle to get PCR tests ‘anywhere near’ them within 48 hours of ordering one, reports The Telegraph.

MPs urged ministers to get a grip and the government announced almost eight million Covid kits would be made available to pharmacies by Friday.

Next month’s order of lateral flow tests has also been increased three-fold to 300million.

In other coronavirus developments:

  • Pressure mounted on the Prime Minister to follow America’s lead and reduce the home quarantine period to five days;
  • The number estimated to be isolating rose to 875,000; 
  • Doctors said up to 90 per cent of patients in some intensive care units have not had a booster jab; 
  • Almost one in three hospital patients with Covid were admitted for an unrelated condition; 
  • A review next week may axe pre-return virus tests for travellers; 
  • Pubs, bars and restaurants reported losing more than £10,000 each on average in the week leading up to Christmas. 

A woman wearing a face covering walks past a sign in the window of a north London pharmacy, which has run out of NHS Lateral Flow Test kits, on December 21 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured visiting a vaccination centre in Milton Keynes on Wednesday) told New Year revellers to party on regardless of the shortage

The Government had been insisting there were adequate lateral flow tests, which allow those without symptoms to check at home whether they have coronavirus.

They had lifted the December order from 120million to 300million and blamed supply problems on delivery constraints.

But in a briefing to a Tory MP yesterday, Sajid Javid admitted Britain was struggling to get hold of enough tests.

Speaking after his call with the Health Secretary, Sir Roger said: ‘Saj was very open about it. He said, look there is no magic wand. There’s no quick fix to this.

‘Originally it was a delivery problem, now it’s a supply and delivery problem. He was very upfront and straight about it. He said there is a world shortage of lateral flow tests.’

The MP for North Thanet added: ‘The British company making them has cranked up its production by four times and is now producing 20million a week instead of five million. We the Brits are buying all those, plus anything else we can get our hands on, but we are competing with everybody else on a worldwide market.’

Sir Roger said shortages risked hurting the hospitality industry if customers struggled to get the reassurance that they could enjoy New Year’s Eve safely.

Mr Javid apparently also told the MP the number of PCR tests was limited due to a lack of lab capacity.

For most of the day yesterday, the Government website showed there were no home deliveries available for lateral flows, but officials insisted they were adding new ones every few hours

Boots at Kings Cross displays a sign showing its Covid tests are out of stock earlier this month

A sign at a Boots pharmacy informs customers that they do not have lateral flow tests in stock on Wednesday in London

The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged rising cases and hospital admissions but said Omicron was ‘obviously milder’ than the Delta strain. And he reiterated his call for people to enjoy New Year’s Eve in a ‘cautious and sensible way’ by taking a test beforehand.

But his colleagues struggled to answer questions on supply issues.

Chloe Smith, work and pensions minister, insisted it was a ‘good thing’ that so many wanted to be tested ahead of New Year’s Eve.

Asked if those who cannot get a test should not go out, she told Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I’m not in a position to dole out advice on that basis, but… the Government is making sure that there is capacity in the testing system.’

For most of the day yesterday, the Government website showed there were no home delivery slots available for lateral flow tests, but officials insisted they were adding new ones every few hours. 

As of yesterday morning there were no available appointments at PCR testing sites and testing kits were also showing as unavailable for home delivery on the Government’s website

An out of stock lateral flow test sign at a Boots pharmacy in London on Wednesday

Speaking to broadcasters about New Year celebrations on Tuesday, Care Minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘We have always said ”act cautiously” since this new variant came among us’

Ordering a Covid test online: What happened when MailOnline tried to get hold of a lateral flow test and book a PCR appointment

Testing availability in much of the UK has been sporadic over the Christmas period with Government websites periodically saying they are unavailable. 

Out of five MailOnline reporters who tried to order Covid tests today – just one was able to get hold of lateral flows after logging on early this morning. 

After visiting the website each reporter was reminded that picking up a lateral flow test from a local pharmacy is the quickest way to get a kit.

It then instructed users on those who can use the service, including people without symptoms, who are 11 or older and who have not been told to self-isolate. It then asked a series of questions, including contact details and whether you are showing symptoms.

But on each try, a message appeared stating: ‘Sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for rapid lateral flow tests right now.’

It then directed people to visit their pharmacy if they do not have symptoms. 

When trying to book a PCR test, users were presented with a similar reminder about who is eligible to receive this type of test.

It then asked users if they are sure they are eligible and whether you are a key worker.

A screen then appeared informing users that there are no home tests for the general public or key workers.

It also stated there was no availability for walk-in test appointments anywhere in England or Northern Ireland.

Since this morning, availability has opened up in the North West, but it continued to change throughout the afternoon.

Throughout yesterday morning the website showed ‘no tests available’ across every region of England for people with symptoms looking for PCR tests, although this was later updated to provide tests in all regions.

Some households in Essex were told their nearest available appointment at a testing site was in Scotland.

The NHS is advising people to routinely swab themselves for Covid-19 twice a week using lateral flow tests. 

But Leyla Hannbeck, of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said patients were often unable to find tests in chemists because of ‘patchy’ and ‘inconsistent’ supplies.

She told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘Pharmacies are reporting that every five minutes people are coming in and asking for tests.

‘But unfortunately, due to the issues around supply being patchy and inconsistent, it means those who come for the tests don’t always get it which is very stressful, not just for the pharmacy team but also for the patients.

‘The scale of the problem is huge because the demand is high due to the current guidelines and people are doing the responsible thing by wanting to be tested.

‘[900,000 kits a day] just isn’t enough to meet the demand and it’s patchy. 

‘Some days you get one box delivered to you and some days you get none so it just isn’t enough for pharmacies to give to patients.

‘This has been going on for some weeks now and what we are asking the Government to ensure that they promptly address the supply issues to meet the high demand and also address the cumbersome processes for the supply of this, the bureaucratic processes.’

The Government’s website urges people to go to their pharmacies to get tests and only order online if they are unable to do so.

Speaking to broadcasters about New Year celebrations on Tuesday, Care Minister Gillian Keegan said: ‘We have always said ”act cautiously” since this new variant came among us.

‘It is highly infectious and many people will know people who have caught this over the Christmas period.

‘So do be cautious, take a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) before you go out. Go to well-ventilated areas – I have been to a couple of outdoor parties actually, people have moved things to outside.

‘So just be cautious, but do try to enjoy yourself as well – but cautiously.’ 



This is at least the seventh time lateral flow tests have been unavailable for delivery while the government urges people to collect tests from their local pharmacies.   

Chris Hopson of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: ‘Trust leaders are reporting delays in the return of PCR test results and problems accessing lateral flow tests.

‘Given the current pressures on the NHS due to staff absences, it’s vital that NHS staff get prompt access to the tests they need to ensure they can return to work as quickly as possible.’

The UK Health Security Agency said: ‘We are delivering record numbers of lateral flow tests to pharmacies across the country, with almost eight million test kits being made available to pharmacies between today and New Year’s Eve.

‘We have made 100,000 more PCR booking slots available per day since mid-December and we are continuing to rapidly expand capacity. If you have not been able to get the test you need from, keep checking every few hours.’ 

And last week, a public health expert warned people to use tests ‘responsibly’ amid the shortage.

Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said on Twitter: ‘I am hearing about people carrying out multiple lateral flow tests in a single day.

‘The tests are in short supply in many parts of England and this kind of practice will exacerbate supply problems, including for key workers such as NHS staff. Please use the tests responsibly.’ 

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 this month 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’.  

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