Johnson Says U.K. Labs Can’t Cope With Virus Testing Demand

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. does not have enough capacity to cope with demand for coronavirus testing and promised to set out measures to prioritize resources soon.

“Demand has massively accelerated in the last two weeks,” Johnson told a committee of members of Parliament in London Wednesday. “We don’t have enough testing capacity now. In an ideal world I would like to test absolutely everybody who wants a test.”

Johnson is battling criticism that his administration has failed to set up a reliable Covid testing regime, six months after the lack of one forced him to lock down the country, delivering a severe hit to the economy. His admission came as the U.K. recorded 3,991 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, up from 3,105 extra cases reported the day before, in a clear sign the pandemic is growing again.

Johnson blamed the surge in demand for virus tests on people trying to prove they didn’t have the disease so they could return to normal life. “That is perfectly reasonable and I understand why people are doing that but the advice and the guidance are that people should seek a test, not in those circumstances but when they have symptoms,” he said. The premier said the government would release the list of groups who would get priority for tests “very shortly.”

The government also said it would impose new restrictions on people’s freedoms in north-east England, after rising cases there. Sky News reported that the areas affected are likely to include Newcastle, Sunderland and County Durham, with restrictions likely to include a ban on people socializing with anyone outside their household and curfews in pubs and restaurants.

“The measures will come into play at midnight on Thursday,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on ITV’s “Peston.” “They are specific to what’s happening in those areas.”

On the economy, Johnson said the government would continue to be “intensely creative” in the help it provides for businesses and workers who suffer hardship as a result of the pandemic. The government will continue to apply the same “imagination” that produced the furlough program, he said.

(Adds latest coronavirus cases, restrictions from third paragraph.)

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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