Unions call for essential workers to be given priority amid rapid test shortage

The government has said it has doubled its capacity to send out tests amid ‘unprecedented demand’

Unions have urged for those who can’t work from home to be given priority access to lateral flow tests following a shortage in the kits.

The TUC has warned that workers' health was being put at risk and that vital services were in danger of being shut down by Covid outbreaks because of the lack of availability of tests.

The government has said that there is no shortage of tests; however, supply problems meant many pharmacies ran out of stock earlier this week and for a number of days tests were unavailable for delivery from the NHS website.

As of this morning tests were available again through the NHS website.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the rapid rise of the Omicron variant made it “even more important that people test regularly if they cannot work at home and are in contact with others”.

“Supply problems with lateral flow tests are putting workers at risk. And it increases the danger of Omicron outbreaks in workplaces shutting down vital services. The government must give priority access to test kits for anyone who is required to work outside the home, to help protect workers and the community,” she said.

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The government said in a statement yesterday that it was working with Royal Mail to double its delivery capacity for home-testing kits following “unprecedented demand”.

“So far this week, around 400,000 test kits have been delivered to people’s homes each day to help combat the spread of coronavirus,” it said, including both rapid lateral flow tests and PCR tests that need to be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

“By Saturday 18 December, 900,000 deliveries a day will be made to ensure that even more people can order either a PCR or LFD test directly to their home.”

The government added that more tests would also be made available from pharmacies.

Yesterday (15 December) saw the largest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic, with almost 79,000 new cases reported. Of these, a quarter are thought to be the Omicron variant.

Under the current guidance, individuals who have been fully vaccinated are not required to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus so long as they take daily lateral flow tests which show they are negative.