Boris Johnson is lashed for slow action on coronavirus testing

Fury at Boris Johnson as it emerges No10 only asked on SUNDAY for research labs to lend the government vital coronavirus equipment – despite pledging mass testing a week ago

  • Experts including the WHO say mass testing is crucial to combat coronavirus 
  • Downing Street wrote to research labs on Sunday asking to borrow testing kit
  • Boris Johnson was told in Commons he should have made request ‘months ago’
  • Government sources denied letter was first time it had been in touch with labs 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Boris Johnson was lambasted for his slow action on coronavirus testing today after it emerged he made an extraordinary plea for research labs to lend the government crucial kit as recently as Sunday.

The premier was accused in the Commons of dragging his heels over the crisis amid a growing backlash over the UK’s testing capacity, with jibes that he should have made the request ‘months ago’.

But in bruising exchanges at PMQs, Mr Johnson denied he had U-turned on the approach, insisting it had been a priority for ‘weeks’.   

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts have been warning that mass checks are crucial for keeping the spread of the killer disease under control.

Countries like South Korea and China have been praised for their wide-scale testing regimes, which seem to have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms earlier this month, when the response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 


Jeremy Corbyn (right) accused Boris Johnson (left) in the Commons of dragging his heels over boosting coronavirus testing capacity

In bruising exchanges at PMQs (pictured), Mr Johnson denied he had U-turned on the approach, insisting it had been a priority for ‘weeks’

A Labour frontbencher has insisted that NHS staff must get coronavirus tests like Prince Charles. 

Shadow Commons Leader Valerie Vaz made the point as she sent her best wished to the Royal in the chamber this afternoon.  

In exchanges with counterpart Jacob Rees-Mogg, she said: ‘Can I start by wishing Prince Charles a speedy recovery… and our gracious sovereign who is also in self-isolation.

‘It was good that Prince Charles was able to have a test. 

‘A lot of our frontline staff don’t have that test. 

‘I wonder if the Leader could ensure – I know the PM said earlier that he wants to protect the NHS… could he do all he can to ensure that tests are available to them.’

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared last week that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000.

Ministers now hope a test could be ready soon that does not need to be processed in a lab and will give results much more quickly. 

At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the email sent by Downing Street to research institutes on Sunday, which was leaked to Politico yesterday. 

‘Why wasn’t this done weeks ago, if not months ago, when the government was first warned about the threat of a global pandemic?’ the Labour leader said.

‘And what action is now being taken to get testing machines?’

Mr Johnson replied: ‘He is quite right that testing is vital to our success in beating the coronavirus. As the Health Secretary has explained many times, we are massively increasing our testing campaign, going up from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000 a day.

‘In answer directly to his question this has been a priority of this government ever since the crisis was obviously upon up – for weeks and week.’ 

Mr Corbyn also demanded to know when all healthcare staff will get the PPE equipment ‘they absolutely desperately need’.

Mr Johnson responded: ‘He’s absolutely right to raise this issue and I know this has been a concern and we had a long meeting on it this morning, but I’m assured that not only are the stocks there now, the Army is now distributing the supplies to all the NHS staff, all the hospitals that need it and in the last 24 hours, they have distributed 7.5million pieces of equipment.’ 

The message sent to research institutes on Sunday asked to borrow expensive equipment currently needed to carry out tests. 

‘We urgently need to scale up testing. There is only a limited supply of these machines, so the PM is making an urgent appeal for you to lend us your machine(s) for the duration of the crisis,’ the email reportedly said. 

‘We will meet all expenses and assume all liabilities and requirements associated with the use of these machines for this purpose. We undertake to return or replace the equipment when the emergency is over. We would very much like to collect any machines you have tomorrow (Mon 23) or Tuesday.’

An accompanying letter from Mr Johnson said ‘there are no machines available to buy’ and asked the institutes to cooperate ‘in the national interest.’ 

He added: ‘if you have any staff who are experienced in using the machines … that would also be very helpful.’  

A source told Playbook ‘It’s great that they are ramping up testing. But it should have been done weeks ago. This is costing lives every day.’    

Government sources have denied that the letter was the first time officials had been in touch with labs. 

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