The government does not have enough testing capacity to keep up with current demand, the prime minister admitted.
Boris Johnson told the Parliamentary liaison committee that demand for tests had “massively accelerated” in recent weeks.
Schools Week revealed last week how schools had been forced to break into their limited supplies of emergency home testing kits following delays in accessing the government’s test and trace programme. This was despite a pledge earlier this year from the Department for Education that it would make it “as easy as possible” to get tests.
Asked today whether there was enough capacity, Johnson replied: “No, the short answer that is is no we don’t.
“And we don’t have enough testing capacity now because in an ideal world I would like to test absolutely everybody that wants a test immediately.”
Johnson repeated his pledge to increase capacity to 500,000 tests a day “by the end of October”.
“What has happened is that demand has massively accelerated, just in the last couple of weeks. I think the reasons for that are that I think that many people are seeking to get a test in the hope that they can thereby be released to get on with their lives in the normal way.
“That is perfectly reasonable and I understand why people are doing that, but the advice is that people should seek a test not in those circumstances but when they have symptoms.
Johnson also urged teachers and parents to “look at the guidance” from Public Health England and Test and Trace “about when you should get a test”, and played down fears that uncertainty could lead to a “rolling system of school shutdowns”
“That would be wrong. That should not be happening because the reasons for sending such a class home or a bubble home would be if somebody tests positive.
“If somebody tests positive who’s been in contact with the rest of their bubble then the rest of the bubble has to self isolate.”
Current guidance for schools, which is endorsed by Public Health England, states that in the event of a positive case, schools must work with local health protection teams and “send home those people who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive”
Johnson also told MPs today that whole class bubbles should not be sent home while schools wait for a positive case to be confirmed by a test.