COVID-19 Tests Could Hit One Million a Day as New ‘Mega Labs’ Open in the UK, the government has said.
Two new “mega labs” will open in early 2021 to try to double the UK’s daily coronavirus testing capacity, a government spokesman has said. The sites, situated at Leamington Spa in the Midlands and another at an unconfirmed site in Scotland will massively boost testing capacity by 600,000.
The latest data shows current capacity is around 519,000- although the number of tests actually processed is a lot lower. Meanwhile, at the same time, Labour is calling for a national plan to roll out the vaccine. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the vaccination programme will probably be the largest logistical operation since World War Two – and called for a plan setting out who will be eligible for a jab and when.
Scientific advisors say testing is considered a key way to control the epidemic, but the government’s system has experienced setbacks during the pandemic. In recent weeks, the government has started to pilot mass testing – including people with no symptoms – using a new type of rapid swab tests which do not need to be sent to a lab.
However, the bulk of the UK’s testing still uses the standard swab test that needs to be analysed in a lab. Announcing the two new “mega labs”, the government said they will use technology to speed up the process – for example through automation and robotics.
“This means more tests will be processed more quickly and at a lower cost, and therefore faster turnaround times for test results,” the Department of Health said.
The sites will create up to 4,000 jobs, with the labs also being used to process tests for other illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. They would each add 300,000 to the UK’s daily testing capacity – defined as how many tests can be processed in the lab each day – when operating at maximum.
The testing capacity is different to how many tests are actually processed. For example, the latest figures for Friday showed that although the UK’s capacity was 519,951, the number of tests carried out was 379,955. Officials have previously said it is natural that not all the capacity is used up, and there needs to be flexibility in the system to cope with surges in demand or problems with equipment or staff.
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