Coronavirus: Minister vows to boost virus test capacity by 'next week'

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Medical staff are seen testing people at a coronavirus test centre in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Chessington, Britain,Image source, Reuters

Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething has vowed to boost coronavirus testing by the start of next week.

The Welsh Government is far short of meeting its own target of up to 5,000 tests a day by "mid-April" - currently 1,300 tests a day are taking place.

On BBC Radio Wales the AM denied he had said "at this point today" Wales would be providing 5,000 tests.

"But I do expect within a number of days we will be at that point," he added.

Plaid Cymru accused the health minister of rewriting history.

The Welsh Government plans to increase testing by opening more drive-in centres, carrying out more tests in the community and through the introduction of a home-delivery testing service.

Meanwhile the UK government announced on Wednesday that it would begin testing care home residents and staff with symptoms in England. The Welsh Government said it is already doing so in Wales.

Patients in hospital and healthcare workers are also tested.

What has happened so far?

With the World Health Organisation calling on governments to "test, test, test" in their fight against coronavirus, pressure has mounted for capacity to increase.

But the effort in Wales was hit in March after a deal with a company to provide an extra 5,000 tests a day fell through. The Welsh Government has not explained why.

Originally the government had planned to carry out 6,000 tests a day by 1 April.

After the deal's collapse, Mr Gething said in a statement that, by mid-April, up to 5,000 tests a day would be conducted.

It aims for 9,000 tests a day by the end of the month - the government has hoped it can reach the figure with the provision of an extra 4,000 tests through a UK-wide four-nation deal.

The UK government has promised 100,000 tests a day in England by the end of April - it provided 14,900 last Monday.

Where are people tested?

Outside of hospitals the service is provided at community locations run by health boards, and at the recently opened Cardiff City Stadium testing centre.

The latter is one of four planned in Wales, but its day-long closure on Bank Holiday Monday sparked controversy over why the capacity was not being used.

Mr Gething's subsequent comments, suggesting some blame sat with local authorities for not referring social workers, prompted criticism and claims the system is overly complex.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Vaughan Gething, pictured last month, said he would have to be "up front" if Wales does not meet 5,000 tests a day

What did Vaughan Gething say?

Mr Gething told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast with Oliver Hides that he had not said "at this point today we'd be at 5,000 tests".

"But I do expect within a number of days we will be at that point," he said.

"I'm expecting it won't be a straight linear line, but we'll see more testing capacity come on this week, to the start of next week.

"If we don't achieve 5,000 tests, then I'll have to be upfront about why that hasn't happened, because I will want those answers, as well as people who need to see that testing capacity increase."

He reiterated his frustration, aired on Tuesday in reaction to the news of the temporary Cardiff City Stadium closure, "that we're not consistently making much better use of the capacity that we have".

The minister has ordered a review into how testing in Wales works. "I want referrals to be made and then quickly processed through so that people get tested," Mr Gething said.

"I also want to make sure that people are referring people in, so that we don't get into the situation we have today where there isn't a backlog but we're not making best use of our resources".

Image source, Wales News Service
Image caption,
The day-long closure of the Cardiff City Stadium centre was criticised on Monday

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: "Rather than address that fact that Welsh Government is woefully behind schedule with testing, the minister is choosing instead to rewrite history."

At the daily Welsh Government press conference education minister Kirsty Williams was asked why the 5,000 target had not been met, but did not provide an answer.

"There are clear plans in place to develop that testing capacity," she said.

On care homes, a Welsh Government spokesman said: "We are already testing symptomatic residents and staff in care homes across Wales.

"We are increasing our capacity to test more workers locally before the home testing service, supported by a new web-based app, is ready."