Coronavirus: Extra tests would have made a difference, says minister

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image source, Reuters
image captionThere will be capacity for 1,100 tests a day in Wales this week, the minister says

There is "no getting away" from the fact extra coronavirus tests "would have made an earlier difference", Wales' health minister has said.

It emerged over the weekend a Welsh Government deal with a firm to provide 5,000 extra tests a day had collapsed.

Ministers have said it was "disappointing" that a company was not able to honour a written agreement.

Asked on Tuesday if the firm involved was Roche, Health Minister Vaughan Gething declined to name the firm.

Speaking to journalists, at the Welsh Government's daily news conference, he said: "The company themselves made a decision they weren't able to fulfil the agreement they'd reached with us.

"If I go further into that then I'm getting into an argument about that deal falling through, and not spending my time on doing what I think I should do - preparing our health service for the here and now and the challenge that is increasing every single day coming into our system."

But the Swiss pharmaceutical company said it "does not have, and has never had, a contract or agreement directly with Wales to supply testing for COVID-19".

image captionVaughan Gething accepted there would be future "questions" about the failed deal

Roche told BBC Wales: "The UK-wide roll-out is being coordinated centrally by Public Health England.

"Roche has a contract with the UK Government to increase testing capacity across the whole of the UK, including Wales."

On Saturday 21 March, the health minister announced the Welsh Government would have access to 6,000 tests a day by 1 April and 8,000 tests a day within a week.

At Tuesday's news conference, Mr Gething confirmed that that would not happen because the additional tests had been expected to be provided by the collapsed deal.

However, he said that "this week we will be going ahead with over 1,100 tests a day capacity in Wales".

Mr Gething added: "I recognise the interest the public, and in particular our front line workers, have in increasing our testing capacity sooner rather than later."

image source, Getty Images
image captionAdam Price: "Countless lives may now be at greater risk"

Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, said that, due to the deal falling through, "Wales will be even further behind on vital testing than we already were".

"Precious time has been lost and countless lives may now be at greater risk," he said.

Mr Gething accepted there would be "questions" about this after the crisis was over but, at the moment, his focus was on the challenge of preparing for the difficult time ahead.

He said: "When all this is done, I'm sure there be lots of questions for all of us about choices we've made at various different points in time, including this particular aspect."

Since the deal collapsed, the health minister said the Welsh Government was working with other private organisations, the university sector and with current NHS capacity.

He added: "So you will see an increase but there's no getting away from the fact that those additional tests that were due to have, would have made an earlier difference for us."

Wales is not the only part of the UK trying to increase testing capacity. The UK government says there is now capacity to carry out 11,000 tests a day in England.

However, it has only been testing 7,000 people a day so far, with a total of about 9,000 separate swabs, because some people need more than one test..

It hopes to carry out 25,000 tests a day by mid-April.

On calls for field hospitals in north Wales, as are being prepared in the south, Mr Gething said his decisions were based on need and "now was the wrong time to be stoking or creating division".

"There is no prospect of one part of Wales being prioritised over another," he said.

The minister said more than 1,300 health and social care workers had come out of retirement to help the Welsh NHS tackle the coronavirus crisis.  

He said the figure included 670 doctors and more than four hundred nurses and midwives.

Mr Gething said it "was a fantastic show of the resilience and dedication" of former staff in such "unprecedented times".

He added that more than a thousand people a day were also volunteering to support their communities - almost 22,000 people had now signed up as volunteers, he told reporters.

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe Principality Stadium is to be used as a field hospital for up to 2,000 beds

Mr Gething also defended Welsh ministers' decision not to give the biggest store chains, including Tesco, financial help.

It follows the Welsh Government changing its mind on giving business rate relief to all retail, hospitality and leisure firms.

Mr Gething told journalists a "choice was made about those very large businesses and their ability to survive, and other smaller businesses who may have much more hard pushed".

He said ministers would look again at firms that were "turning over their assets" to help the fight against coronavirus to see "how we provide support for them".

He said that included the Bluestone holiday resort in Pembrokeshire and Cardiff's Principality Stadium.

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