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Covid-19 Testing Infrastructure

Volume 707: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2022

4. What assessment he has made of the capacity of the UK’s covid-19 testing infrastructure in comparison to other countries. (905078)

The UK continues to provide one of the highest testing rates globally. We have increased capacity for PCR testing by over 200,000 tests per day since December. Home delivery capacity is now at 7 million lateral flow tests every day, with community pharmacies supplying an additional 9.5 million tests last week. In comparison to England, countries that have put in place more restrictions might have chosen a different balance between lateral flow devices and PCRs to meet their individual testing demands. Therefore, we cannot meaningfully compare our testing infrastructure to that of other countries.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Health and social care workers who care for some of the most clinically vulnerable members of our society were rightly prioritised for early vaccination. Does she agree that, similarly, they must be prioritised for testing? What is she doing to ensure that?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The most vulnerable people are being prioritised. The UK Health Security Agency and NHS Test and Trace currently deliver an average of more than 70,000 PCR kits and 970,000 LFD kits a week to adult social care settings. In recent weeks, as demand has increased due to the omicron wave, Dudley, like other local authorities, has provided tests to key workers to enable them to keep working.

I thank the Minister for her response. The Government have recently announced that self-isolation will be cut to five days, given a negative lateral flow test. Has the Minister come to an assessment on the impact that will have on demand for lateral flow tests, given the struggle many have faced trying to obtain a box of them in recent weeks?

As we look at policy and amend it like we did last week, it is right that we make sure that we can fill those requirements. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we can, and we have increased the procurement of lateral flow devices. This month, we will get another 750 million lateral flow devices into the UK for January and February.[Official Report, 20 January 2022, Vol. 707, c. 6MC.]

I am sure the whole House will welcome the early signs of falling numbers of people in hospital with covid. Does the Minister have any comments on the news yesterday from the World Health Organisation that it thinks that the UK looks set to be one of the first countries out of the pandemic, and how much weight does she put on the vaccination and booster programme, and the colossal scale of our testing availability, in that achievement?

My right hon. Friend makes a really good point. We know that omicron numbers are still really high, and we still have more than 2,000 people hospitalised every day, so we do need to be cautious. But my hon. Friend is right, in that our vaccine and testing programmes have been vital in being able to tackle this deadly virus. I encourage everybody to get their booster and, if they have not come forward for their first or second jab, to get those too.