A leading scientist has warned it is “very worrying” that a shortage of Covid-19 tests could lead to people mixing over the New Year without being able to see whether they are infectious.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the conditions at a New Year’s Eve gathering were “perfect” for spreading coronavirus.
The UK Government is scrambling to secure supplies of tests from around the world to meet a surge in demand as people try to comply with guidance to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
By 9am on Thursday morning, home delivery slots for lateral flow tests were unavailable on the Gov.UK website.
Pharmacies have also complained about patchy supplies of lateral flow kits.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people in England heading out for New Year’s Eve festivities on Friday to get tested.
But Prof Openshaw raised concerns about the prospect of people unable to get tested attending gatherings.
“I think it’s very worrying indeed,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We know the situations in which transmission happens and fortunately I don’t think we are facing the sort of lockdown that was necessary in order to cope in the very earliest part of this year.
“But we do know that crowding together in poorly ventilated spaces, particularly if you are shouting over loud music and so on, is absolutely perfect in terms of transmitting this very, very highly transmissible virus.”
In England – unlike other parts of the UK – nightclubs remain open and there are no limits on social mixing.
The NHS Covid Pass is required for entry to nightclubs, but this can be obtained by people who are double-jabbed, rather than requiring proof of a negative test.
The UK Health Security Agency said on Wednesday that eight million lateral flow test kits would be made available to pharmacies by New Year’s Eve.
The Government is under increasing pressure to up the capacity of coronavirus testing as case numbers reached their highest level yet.