Rees-Mogg tells public to stop 'endless carping' over Covid tests

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Jacob Rees-Mogg self-isolating as child awaits coronavirus test result

People should stop their “endless carping” about a lack of Covid-19 tests, a senior minister has said, as Labour warned a second spike is likely.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed the “phenomenal success” of Britain’s testing system should be celebrated.

But shadow health minister Alex Norris branded him “out-of-touch”, adding Mr Rees-Mogg should “immediately apologise”.

After the Government announced new coronavirus restrictions in the North East of England, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth warned: “It’s become not so much test and trace, more like trace a test.”

Speaking in the Commons, Labour frontbencher Valerie Vaz questioned why the head of the Government’s coronavirus Test and Trace programme, Dido Harding, has not spoken in public since August.

The shadow Commons leader added: “The number of tests returned within 24 hours has fallen from 68% to 8% – it seems to be all talk, talk and no test, test.”

Mr Rees-Mogg, who had to self-isolate last week while awaiting Covid-19 test results for one of his six children, replied: “We all have an obligation to try and stop the dangerous disease spreading, but the issue of testing is one where we have gone from a disease that nobody knew about a few months ago to one where nearly a quarter of a million people a day can be tested.

“And the Prime Minister is expecting that to go up to half a million people a day by the end of October.

“And instead of this endless carping, saying it is difficult to get them, we should actually celebrate the phenomenal success of the British nation in getting up to a quarter of a million tests of a disease that nobody knew about until earlier in the year.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs there are more coronavirus tests in Scotland per head of population than in the rest of the UK.

Responding to SNP health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford, Mr Hancock said: “There are more tests in Scotland through the drive-through centres, through the local testing sites, through the mobile testing centres, than there are in the rest of the UK per head of population.

“So we over-indexed the number of tests through those routes that we put into Scotland.

“And indeed in the Scottish NHS there is spare capacity which needs to be used, and I’m working very closely with the Scottish Government to ensure the spare capacity there in the Scottish NHS is used given the enormous demand for tests right across this country.”

Senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper raised the case of a constituent who works in the NHS, who was unable to get a test for her husband.

The Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP said: “She’s since developed symptoms herself. Neither of them has been tested, neither of them is therefore in the tracing system so there’s no follow-up to prevent other people getting the virus as well.

“This isn’t just chaotic, it is dangerous.

“The Government knew there would be a huge increase in demand for testing when the schools went back and when he was encouraging people to go back to work, yet since mid-July testing capacity has only gone up by 10% and the number of cases has gone up by 400%.”

Mr Hancock replied: “We are increasing that capacity and I said it’s at record levels.

“When it comes to her constituents, firstly those who work in the NHS are eligible to get tests through the NHS pillar one system, but all those who have symptoms of coronavirus and think they may have symptoms of coronavirus, it’s very important that they self-isolate.”

Conservative Chris Green (Bolton West) said positive Covid-19 cases are “rocketing up” in Bolton and warned this is having a “devastating impact on people’s physical and mental health”, as well as livelihoods and businesses.

He said: “Many people are heading out of the borough to get their beauty treatments, go to the pubs and restaurants.

“At the same time the testing system is failing to deliver so people are increasingly going to accident and emergency in Bolton and Wigan in the hope of getting a Covid test.”

Mr Hancock said almost 7,000 tests have been added to the area in the last week, adding: “People should not go to A&E to access a test. I’ve seen that was being reported yesterday and my team have been working with the hospital, who are doing a very good job in difficult circumstances.

“The situation in Bolton is very difficult, with over 200 cases per 100,000 population, the highest in the country by a long, long way, and we’ve got a lot of work to do to get the situation under control in Bolton.”

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