People with coronavirus symptoms being sent 100 miles away for tests

Matt Hancock has defended the UK’s coronavirus testing programme after it was revealed that some people with symptoms of the virus are having to drive 100 miles away to find out if they have it.

The health secretary today announced that the government will be putting half a billion pounds towards mass testing and trials of a new test kit that can provide results in 20 minutes.

Part of the £500 million will go towards a new community-wide trial in Salford, Greater Manchester, to assess the benefits of repeat population testing, with people taking part in the trial to get weekly tests.

Initially, the pilot will focus on a specific high-footfall location in the city with retail, public services, transport and faith spaces.

Existing trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a no-swab saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded through the new funding.

In Southampton the tests will ramp up to a weekly model trialled with more than 2,100 pupils and staff across four schools.

Meanwhile in Hampshire the pilot of the rapid test will be expanded ‘to further explore the applications of mobile testing in different settings’, the Department of Health said.

The health secretary this morning told Sky News the 20-minute tests ‘essentially have a lab in the back of a van’.

In a statement, Mr Hancock said: ‘Testing is a vital line of defence in combating this pandemic. Over the past six months we have built almost from scratch one of the biggest testing systems in the world.

‘We need to use every new innovation at our disposal to expand the use of testing, and build the mass testing capability that can help suppress the virus and enable more of the things that make life worth living.

‘We are backing innovative new tests that are fast, accurate and easier to use will maximise the impact and scale of testing, helping us to get back to a more normal way of life.’

But the funding announcement comes as postcode analysis by the BBC of the test booking service suggests some people with symptoms are being redirected to distant testing centres – as far as 100 miles away from their home.

The broadcaster said this shows the goverment is rationing coronavirus tests in certain areas in order to prioritise high-risk areas. Public health experts believe any rationing will lead to the start of new spikes being missed.

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