Britain gets its boost: huge queues at vaccination centres as PCR tests run out

UK hoping to deliver more than one million shots a day to contain Omicron spread

Members of the public wait for a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as they queue outside Manchester Town Hall.
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Huge lines formed at vaccine centres across Britain on Tuesday as people queued to get their coronavirus booster shot during a surge in cases of the Omicron variant.

UK health authorities opened up the booster programme this week to allow anyone aged 30 or over receive their third vaccine dose.

The national booking system was overwhelmed as over-30s became eligible to book their booster vaccine, with many people spending hours in queues at walk-in clinics to get their shots.

Britain is struggling with a sustained rise in coronavirus case numbers ahead of Christmas. On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported more than 59,610 cases, with more than a third of infections believed to have been caused by Omicron.

The increased demand has resulted in a significant shortage of Covid tests across the country.

Briefly on Tuesday morning, the government website said there were no slots available for PCR tests at walk-in and drive-in test sites across every region of England.

UK Health Security Agency sources said “very high demand” for PCR test slots at sites across the country had led to temporary reduced availability in some areas.

PCR test kits that are posted to people’s homes, usually arriving the following day, are available.

On Tuesday new guidance came into force for the testing of coronavirus close contacts.

Double jabbed people are now being asked to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days if they come into contact with someone with Covid-19.

But, for the second day running, lateral flow tests are unavailable to be ordered via the government website, although it is understood that a number were available in the early hours of the morning.

On Monday, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that “due to exceptionally high demand, ordering lateral flow tests on gov.uk has been temporarily suspended to fulfil existing orders”.

Ministers have insisted there is no issue over supply, but rather that there are constraints on the delivery system for the tests, as they encouraged people to pick up testing kits from their local pharmacies.

However, many people have reported that their local pharmacy is out of stock.

The new guidance says that fully vaccinated people who are in close contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case should take a rapid lateral flow test every day for a week to help slow the spread of the virus.

People who test positive or develop symptoms are still required to isolate, as are unvaccinated people who are “not eligible for this new daily testing policy”, according to the government website.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted the issue with ordering lateral flow tests from the government website is not down to a lack of the tests. He told BBC Breakfast: “The problem isn’t supply and volume, the problem is the allocation and distribution, or the delivery, of it.

“We know that in relation to the online system there were some challenges yesterday and that’s partly because of the proportion they’ve got each day.

“We’re making sure that however people may wish to order them and procure them, we’re ramping up not just the capacity … but the ability to distribute and to deliver.”

On Monday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said limits on ordering tests are linked to delivery capacity, and said new arrangements have been reached with Amazon and others.

Mr Javid said: “There is no shortage of actual tests that are held by UKHSA. There are tens of millions of tests… the issue, the limiting factor because of the hugely increased demand … is the ability to deliver the tests and having enough capability to deliver the tests because the current arrangements with Royal Mail alone are not enough.

“There are new arrangements that I’ve reached with Amazon and other delivery methods.”

More than three million booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered across the UK in the past week – the highest number for any seven-day period since the roll-out of extra doses began.

A total of 3,165,642 booster and third doses were given in the week to December 13, including 513,722 on Monday.

This is the most extra doses reported for a Monday so far.

Updated: December 14, 2021, 7:17 PM