May 19, 2020 / 9:33 AM / 14 days ago

Step up COVID-19 testing, tracking, lawmakers criticise UK response

LONDON, May 19 (Reuters) - Britain must step up its testing and tracking to help tackle the coronavirus crisis, lawmakers said on Tuesday, criticising the government for dropping a programme to check for COVID-19 in March and not moving fast enough to build it up.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Greg Clark, chairman of the parliamentary science and technology committee, listed some of their findings, suggesting there was a lack of transparency over scientific advice and decisions on testing.

Johnson, who repeats that the government is following scientific advice in its response to the coronavirus outbreak, has come under fire for being slow on testing, for failing to provide protective equipment and for sacrificing care homes.

The government, the letter said, must learn the lessons from the slowness on testing.

“One of the most significant problems of the handling of the pandemic to date in the United Kingdom has been the lack of capacity to test people to determine whether they have COVID-19,” Clark wrote in the letter.

“Very low numbers of people were being tested well into March, with the number of tests actually falling at a critical time to 1,215 on March 10.”

He also said a decision to concentrate testing in a limited number of laboratories and expand it gradually rather than boosting capacity by using other laboratories was “one of the most consequential made during this crisis”.

Work and Pensions minister Thérèse Coffey said testing capacity was limited at the start of the outbreak, but this had been rapidly expanded “from a standing start” since.

For the letter: here (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Michael Holden)

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