Coronavirus: 'Critical' testing laboratory has opened

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Ministers Edwin Poots and Robin Swann at the launch of the testing centre on 14 AprilImage source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Ministers Edwin Poots and Robin Swann at the launch of the testing centre on 14 April

A laboratory that will significantly increase Northern Ireland's Covid-19 testing capacity has begun work, the BBC understands.

The facility normally tests for animal disease, but has been repurposed to focus on human samples.

It is expected to eventually test up to 1,000 samples daily.

The work is being carried out by a consortium including Queen's University and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

At the launch on 14 April, Health Minister Robin Swann said he hoped it would get through 1,000 tests daily within two to three weeks.

He said at that time the increased capacity was "critical", allowing the executive to get testing to the level it had wanted "for quite some time".

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots also attended the event and said increased testing was necessary to give the executive the flexibility to move out of lockdown, when testing and contact tracing would be vital.

On 8 May, the partner organisations said they hoped to initiate full testing arrangements the following week.

But there was some delay, which is understood to have been due to quality control work needed to ensure the integrity of the testing system.

Test, track and trace is central to the UK's coronavirus strategy.

On 28 April, Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride said coronavirus testing had been "significantly ramped up" in Northern Ireland and community surveillance testing was now possible.

The Department of Health (DoH) has said testing on all care home residents in Northern Ireland will be completed by the end of June while staff testing will be done on a rolling basis.

In a statement earlier this week, the Belfast Trust said it continued to work with AFBI to ensure that the increase in test capacity was delivered.

The Three 'T's

The UK's "test, track and trace" coronavirus strategy has three aims which are to:

  • Test people to uncover the virus
  • Track how and where the virus is spreading
  • Trace people who may be infected

This story was changed at 21:25 on 21 May to remove an inaccurate statement about the involvement of pharmaceutical company Almac and Ulster University in the new testing laboratory.