NHS staff were today finally being swabbed for coronavirus at a make-shift facility in Chessington – after the Government’s testing fiasco was exposed yesterday through pictures showing the site completely deserted.
Queues built-up outside the temporary drive-through station – set-up at the entrance to the Chessington World of Adventures, with clear warnings medics would be rejected unless they had an appointment.
NHS staff – who are working frantically to fight the outbreak – have already called the scheme ‘absurd’, pleading for health chiefs to allow them to turn up whenever they have a spare moment to get swabbed.
Embarrassing pictures revealed by the MailOnline yesterday showed barely any traffic at Chessington – while a separate facility 13 miles away in Wembley was rammed as NHS staff tried to get swabbed for the life-threatening infection.
It comes amid a huge row over Britain’s lacklustre testing policy, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson today facing demands to summon the Dunkirk spirit and let ‘small ship’ labs start screening for the killer infection.
It also has raised questions over how soon the tests can be processed with NHS staff saying they have been left waiting days for their results.
Public Health England has previously insisted all coronavirus tests should be carried out centrally, an approach that contrasts with the tactic in Germany, which is carrying out 100,000 tests each day.
For comparison, fewer than 10,000 tests are being carried out each day in the UK – meaning the true size of the UK’s outbreak is a guessing game because potentially millions of cases are being missed.
Almost 3,000 NHS staff have now been tested at the drive-through stations since the first facilities were opened at the weekend. Around 150,000 people in the UK have been swabbed in total.
In another element of the Government’s unfolding testing shambles, it was revealed today that health chiefs have rejected some antibody tests they promised would be ready for mid-April.
Officials, who claim to have ordered 17.5million tests to check who is immune, admitted some of the kits were not deemed accurate enough – but it was not revealed which tests had been blocked.
Putting a mass antibody testing regime in place is vital to ease the lockdown strangling the economy, which would allow Britons to know they are immune and go back to their usual lives.
NHS staff were today finally being swabbed for coronavirus at a make-shift facility in Chessington, with queues of cars being waved through by a security guard in hi-vis jacket
Queues built-up up outside the temporary drive-through station, which opened at 10am and began testing frontline workers at the weekend
Frustrated health workers are still being turned away from coronavirus testing sites today because they do not have the correct paperwork
Pictures taken this morning showed empty testing bays at Chessington shortly before it opened at 10am – but only because they were not yet in use
The testing facility at Ikea in Wembley was also busy today, with cars queuing to get swabbed for the life-threatening coronavirus
Frustrated health workers were still being turned away from coronavirus testing sites today because they do not have the correct paperwork.
A doctor yesterday said it was ‘absurd’ NHS workers – who are desperately fighting the outbreak – are unable to turn up when they have a spare moment.
One nurse today revealed it took her more than a week to book an appointment for a mouth swab, and described the process as a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’.
Clare Beer, who works for the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, told MailOnline: ‘The test was over and done very quickly.’
The 57-year-old, from Surrey, added: ‘I should have the results in a couple of days. But it took me a week to get this appointment.’
Mrs Beer went into self-isolation two weeks ago after she developed a persistent cough – a tell-tale symptom of the COVID-19 virus.
She contacted the trust a week later when she felt better and asked to be tested but she did not have an appointment at a testing site confirmed until last night.
Describing the shambolic process of booking an appointment, she said: ‘There were these emails going backwards and forwards, it took forever.
Pictures yesterday showed little activity at the Chessington coronavirus testing site, which was set up as a drive-through for NHS workers who need to get tested
Staff yesterday were pictured stretching their legs while there was little activity at the site
IS THIS BUILDING THE REASON BEHIND BRITAIN’S TESTING FIASCO?
Business Secretary Amok Sharma compared the renovation as being like trying to build a car factory
Control-freak health chiefs have put all their eggs in one basket to make a super-lab in Milton Keynes to analyse thousands of coronavirus tests – but it still isn’t up and running and officials are clueless as to when it will be ready.
The National Biosample Centre site could be the key to fixing Britain’s testing fiasco, after the Prime Minister pledged to ramp up swabbing and finally accepted mass testing was the solution to the ‘puzzle’.
The centre – built for £24million in 2015 – would face a massive overhaul. Ministers yesterday admitted they ‘don’t know’ when the facility in Milton Keynes will be fully operational.
Millions of Britons may have already been infected with the life-threatening infection – but Number 10 is clueless about the true size of the outbreak because of its controversial decision to not carry out mass testing.
Putting a mass testing regime in place is vital to ease the lockdown strangling the economy and threatening millions of jobs, which would allow Britons to go back to their usual lives and not be confined inside their own homes.
‘They kept asking the same basic questions – like my name and date of birth – it was ridiculous.’
Mrs Beer was among more than 50 NHS workers who were queuing to be tested at the facility.
But one nurse said he had to wait for an hour at the Chessington site to be tested.
Gene Tatuin, 53, from Surrey, told MailOnline: ‘I had an appointment for 10.30 but I had to wait for an hour to be tested.
‘Everything is so slow. I had to wait for days to get the appointment and I was here early but still I had to wait.
‘I’m normally in charge of a hospital ward but I’m off work now because I have the symptoms. But hopefully I can be back in seven days.’
Marshalls asked each worker to show a record of their appointment and their NHS identification before they are allowed into the testing centre.
Other nurses, including Ali Mohungoo, have explained how they want to be tested so they can get back to work.
The 51-year-old told MailOnline: ‘I have been self-isolating because I’ve developed a cough. So I want to know if I have the virus so I can get over it and get back to work.
‘I organized this appointment through my NHS Trust. They are desperate to get staff back to work.’
A senior nurse explained it was vital for staff to be tested so they could be returned to the front-line as soon as possible.
The 45-year-old ward sister told MailOnline: ‘I’m a ward sister in charge of a general ward in a local hospital.
‘I have been self-isolating because I’ve got the symptoms and so has my husband and two children. I think we’ve all got it.
‘But the sooner I can confirm I have the virus the quicker I can get back to work. My colleagues are having to carry on without me. So I want to back as soon as possible.’
Wembley’s testing facility was also busy today, with cars snaking down the road for up to 60 metres as they opened for business at 10am.
MailOnline was told around one in eight trying to enter Wembley IKEA car park were still being turned around and refused testing.
Shoppers appeared to mistake the queue for the store reopening yesterday, with one woman annoyed she couldn’t pop into the store to buy a picture frame.
Mental health worker Oluwatoyin Adeoye was angry at being turned away, saying he just wanted a test to make sure he was not spreading the virus to his patients.
Builders rush to put up a new drive-through coronavirus testing centre in Whitstable, Kent, as the number of British victims spirals
GPs in Whistable have been told that patients may be sent to the site if they show symptoms of the deadly virus. It is unclear when it will be ready
FRANCIS CRICK INSTITUTE CHIEF URGES PM TO OVERRULE HEALTH BOSSES AND SCALE UP MASS TESTING
Boris Johnson is facing demands to overrule control-freak health chiefs today amid warnings ‘time is running out’ to scale up coronavirus testing.
Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute, urged the PM to summon the Dunkirk spirit and let ‘small ship’ labs start screening.
The institute announced it has started testing NHS staff from University College London Hospitals and aims to ramp up to 500 per day by next week and expand to other hospitals in the capital.
Cancer Research UK said it is also providing testing kits and expert staff to ramp up testing for NHS staff across the country.
The private labs’ involvement come as the Government is facing bitter backlash over slow progress on increasing the number of people it is testing.
Delivering a damning verdict on government’s strategy and lack of ‘preparation’, Sir Paul Nurse warned the country was ‘running out of time’ to get on top of the outbreak and capacity at research facilities was ‘agile’ enough to get round shortages of chemicals.
The comments came amid signs ministers are finally changing tack over the testing regime, after weeks of Public Health England (PHE) insisting all screening should be carried out centrally.
PHE’s approach is meant to ensure checks are conducted properly but contrasts with the decentralised tactics deployed successfully in countries like Germany, which is carrying out around 50,000 per day.
Mr Adeoye, who works at St Bernard’s Hospital in Ealing, said: ‘I came here to get a test so I know I do not have the virus and can continue to work at the hospital.
‘I did not know that you need an email. This is wrong. All NHS workers should be given the test.’
Earlier a nurse who works at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital sat in her car having been turned away as she did not have an email authorisation.
Marites Vicenco said she had been given a time for an appointment at the IKEA test centre but had not received an email confirmation.
She spent over 15 minutes on her mobile phone calling an NHS helpline before she was sent the email that allowed her to enter the facility.
Even though the test centre only opened at 10am a long queue of cars had built up inside the car park waiting for their allotted slot.
Several people who identified themselves as key workers were among those refused entry because they did not have an appointment.
Radiographer Denise Orlandini said she was disappointed not to be allowed inside, adding: ‘It hasn’t been made very clear who and who cannot have the test.’
Care home worker Elena Filip drove from her home in North London in the hope of getting a test.
The 36 year old said she had developed a sore throat and wanted to make sure that she was not infected with coronavirus so that she could continue her work.
She told MailOnline: ‘I work with old and vulnerable people and the last thing I want to do is infect them.
‘I hope I do not have the virus but I wanted to be responsible and make sure that I am okay to work.’
Security guards at the test centre said one car every five minutes was being directed to a test bay.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.