Britain’s attempt to ramp up mass coronavirus testing has been dealt a blow after key components ordered from overseas were discovered to be contaminated with coronavirus, the Telegraph can disclose.
Laboratories across the country were on Monday warned to expect a delay after traces of the virus were detected in parts due for delivery in the coming days.
It comes as ministers and public health chiefs face growing questions over why Britain’s testing capacity appears to be lagging far behind other major nations including the US and South Korea.
To accelerate production, the government has enlisted private firms to help produce thousands of kits in the hope that mass testing will be available to the public within weeks.
The firm admitted there had been “an issue” and insisted other private providers had suffered the same problem.
Exactly how the contamination occurred is not clear, and senior health sources insisted the delay would not significantly affect the UK’s testing programme.
Meanwhile, Downing Street accused Public Health England of providing ministers with incorrect information on the number of coronavirus tests conducted after Michael Gove claimed that 10,000 had been completed on Sunday. Only 8,278 tests were carried out in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday morning.
It came 24 hours after Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, stated the Government’s target of 10,000 tests per day had been hit, with ministers now pushing for 25,000 by mid-April.
However, confusion mounted when official figures published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed that just under 7,000 people had been tested, significantly lower than Mr Gove had claimed.
On Monday morning, health minister Helen Whately added to the uncertainty when she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have achieved the capacity to have 10,000 tests a day. The actual number that was tested on the day in question was I think around 7,000.”
To compound the issue further, PHE released the latest figures just minutes later, stating that between Friday morning and 9am on Saturday 9,114 tests had been completed.
PHE also stated that “testing capacity for patient care stands at 10,949 a day”, prompting questions as to whether, despite overwhelming demand, health services failed to carry out the maximum number of tests available.
Last night Whitehall sources claimed the error had occurred due to Public Health England failing to make clear to ministers the distinction between the capacity available and the number that had actually been completed.
They added that a number of people were tested more than once, thereby resulting in the disparity between the statistics. Government sources said the discrepancy was partly caused by hospitals not knowing at the start of each day how many people would need to be tested, and holding back enough capacity to ensure they did not run out of tests.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has recorded 10 positive covid-19 cases, 1 death and 316 tests. There hasn’t been any mass testing conducted yet for various unclear reasons.