Coronavirus: 'Large' queues build at Southend-on-Sea testing centre

  • Published
Media caption,

People were queuing at the test centre in Southend from 05:00 GMT

A surge in demand for coronavirus tests has seen long queues develop outside some testing centres. The BBC went to Southend-on-Sea, where some people have been facing waits of several hours.

When Sharon arrived just before 09:00 BST on Wednesday, hundreds of people were already lined up outside the Short Street testing centre.

She had dropped off her daughter and granddaughter to get their symptoms checked.

The testing centre opened at 08:00 but some people had already been there for hours.

"[A] guy had been queuing since 4:30 in the morning to get tested," she said. "It's ridiculous."

Image caption,
Sharon said her daughter was unable to book a slot at her local test centre in Basildon

Why are there 'large queues'?

While some testing centres have been operating below capacity, demand has been high in Southend.

It is one of 58 static walk-through centres, out of 389 testing sites in the UK.

Southend Borough Council leader, Ian Gilbert, said he was "concerned to see images of large queues outside the testing centre".

"It is clear from these images that people are turning up to be tested without an appointment," he said.

Many people have struggled to secure online bookings and have been directed to testing sites hundreds of miles from home.

Southend's director of public health, Krishna Ramkhelawon, said he was "aware of social media posts where people are saying to 'just turn up'."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The walk-through test site on Short Street in the town opened last month

He said more people were testing positive for coronavirus in the town, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

"Two-and-a-half weeks ago the percentage of positive tests in Southend was between 0.6 and 0.7%," he said.

"Now it is between 1.2% and 1.3% - it has effectively doubled."

Southend has one of the lowest levels of infection in the East of England, with a rate of 13.7 per 100,000 people.

What is being done to cut waiting times?

Mr Gilbert said concerns about the number of people turning up at Southend, along with problems around the availability of appointments, had been raised "at a national level".

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The council has told residents to allow attend the site in Southend if they have booked a test

The Labour councillor said residents should only go to the site "if they have a booked appointment, and to please only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms".

"Booking or turning up for a test without symptoms will take testing capacity from those people with symptoms who really need it," he added.

The testing site, run by the Department for Health and Social Care, opened last month.

Nationally, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there had been a "colossal spike" in demand for tests and the government was "working very fast" to turn around test requests.

It is due to publish a list for those who will be prioritised for tests within days.

Who should get a test?

  • The government says anyone can get a test if they have coronavirus symptoms - namely a high temperature, a new or continuous cough, and/or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • You can also get a test for someone you live with if they have these symptoms
  • But you should not get a test or ask for tests for people you live with who do not have Covid-19 symptoms
  • If you have symptoms or test positive, you should remain at home for at least 10 days
  • Other members of your household, including those who do not have any symptoms, should then also stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days

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