Coronavirus: Wales does not currently need 5,000 tests a day, says minister

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Vaughan GethingImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Vaughan Gething is Wales' health minister

Wales does not currently need 5,000 coronavirus tests a day, Wales' health minister Vaughan Gething has said.

Welsh ministers abandoned their target for 5,000 tests earlier this week, blaming problems with obtaining kit.

Mr Gething said the lockdown has had such an impact on infections that the number of tests is not needed now.

Plaid Cymru said the "shocking and irresponsible" comments were an attempt to deflect attention from Welsh Government failures on testing.

The UK government is sticking to its plans for 100,000 tests a day in England by the end of April.

Mr Gething said more testing will be needed when Wales comes out of lockdown. The Welsh Government is developing plans for community testing and contact tracing.

Neither the Welsh or UK governments have come close to their own plans for testing. Welsh ministers ditched their target when capacity was running at around 1,300 a day, although not all tests were being used.

In England total capacity is just over 39,000. Downing Street said the UK government is "absolutely standing by" its 100,000 tests goal.

Opposition parties have criticised the Welsh Government for failing to meet and then abandoning the pledge for 5,000 tests a day by mid-April.

Despite the problems, Mr Gething said more people per head of population have been tested for coronavirus in Wales than in either England or Scotland, saying a total of 26,000 people have been checked.     

At the Welsh Government's daily press conference Mr Gething said the lockdown measures have had "such a significant impact" on the curve of coronavirus infections "that at this point in time we don't need to be running 5,000 tests a day in Wales across the country".

But he said there will need to be a "much more significant testing infrastructure in terms of capacity, reach and ease of use, as we come out of lockdown".

The now-abandoned target was set at the end of March, after the Welsh Government said a deal with a company to provide more tests fell through.6

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth criticised Mr Gething's comments.

"This is shocking and irresponsible from the health minister," he said.

"How can he possible say that the coronavirus is circulating less than expected in our communities when we aren't testing?

"This is an attempt to rewrite history to deflect from a target his government downgraded once and missed twice and which has now been scrapped."

Image source, Wales News Service
Image caption,
The Cardiff City Stadium testing centre is one of four being set up in Wales

Earlier on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast with Claire Summers, Vaughan Gething blamed procurement problems for why the Welsh Government had not met the 5,000 target.

He said they have not been able to import a range of equipment and chemical reagents needed - "partly because there's world competition for this which has shortened supply even further", while some countries had restricted the export of some goods.

There is an ongoing commitment to expand the testing programme, "but that's for a different reason", he said.

"Because when we announced the 5,000 figure that we thought we'd get to within that two-to-three week time period, we thought we'd have a much higher incidence of coronavirus still circulating.

"And because of the social distancing measures... we've significantly reduced even more than we thought the amount of coronavirus that's spreading.

"What we need to do next is to make sure we properly use the tests we have got, and to expand our testing programme because we need to do that if we're going to come out of lockdown."

Image source, zetat/Getty Images
Image caption,
Testing targets have proved controversial in Wales and England

At the press conference, Mr Gething said the Welsh Government is working with Amazon on a coronavirus testing "web-portal". The minister said "final checks were being done" but "it should be available next week".

The Welsh NHS currently only tests patients, care home residents, and health and social care workers with symptoms. It does not test more widely in the community.

The World Health Organisation has stressed the importance of testing in tackling the virus, so suspected cases can be isolated and contacts traced.

Such a strategy was raised on Monday by First Minister Mark Drakeford as a necessity when Wales eases out of lockdown, with plans being drawn up.

Call for inquiry

Meanwhile, a call by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price for an immediate judge-led public inquiry into the response to the coronavirus pandemic in Wales has been rejected by ministers.

Mr Price said the investigation should have initial findings ready by the end of summer, and run in parallel with an inquiry at a UK level.

"Such an inquiry should leave no stone unturned in answering, difficult questions fully and frankly," he said.

But the call was dismissed by First Minister Mark Drakeford, who said: "Our immediate priority and absolute focus is on saving lives, ensuring public services have the resources they need to respond to the pandemic and leading Wales through this crisis.

"The time will come, once we have recovered from the crisis, for a more in depth examination of the pandemic and the governmental response."

The leader of the assembly Conservative group, Paul Davies, said it was "way too soon to be talking about inquiries".

"Now is not the time for distractions, the current focus must remain on defeating the coronavirus and supporting everyone on the frontline putting their lives at risk," he said.