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Not everyone with coronavirus symptoms can be tested, warn health chiefs

PUBLISHED: 18:23 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:23 11 March 2020

For the latest coronavirus health advice from the NHS, go to 111.nhs.uk/covid-19. Picture: PA/Jane Barlow

For the latest coronavirus health advice from the NHS, go to 111.nhs.uk/covid-19. Picture: PA/Jane Barlow

PA Wire/PA Images

Public Health England (PHE) has defended its decision not to test everyone reporting coronavirus symptoms, saying it must focus on those at highest risk.

The NHS 111 online symptom checker suggests only people with symptoms who have been in contact with a known case of coronavirus, or who have travelled to a country with a serious outbreak, will be given further advice through the 111 advice service.

It comes after Government scientists said Covid-19 is now spreading between people in the UK, although only those formally tested are being recorded in official figures.

Some concerned people expressed frustration that there were not more tests.

Sam Freedman, chief executive of the the Education Partnerships Group, tweeted: 'Unfortunately I have a cough + a fever. Turns out I can't get a test because I haven't been to any affected countries or come into contact with a known case. Even though I have been through an airport + to a concert.

'This seems a major flaw in the testing system to say the least.'

The Guardian said one of its staff had been sent a message from a member of staff at Westminster, who wished to remain anonymous.

That person said: 'I work in parliament and developed the same symptoms as Nadine Dorries MP on the same day. I've had a dry cough, chest pain and fever for four days.

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'NHS 111 services triaged me away from coronavirus on Friday. I could not be tested because I hadn't been in close contact to a previously confirmed case.

'The official 111 advice for me this morning - after calling again to check after hearing about Nadine Dorries MP - is to go to work with a cough, wash my hands, and assume that I don't have it. (I am actually going to ignore that advice and work from home.)

'I am worried that only testing people who have been 'contact traced' is missing a lot of people in the community, and that people like me may have coronavirus and are being advised to go to work anyway.

'Is this because the Government simply can't do the number of tests needed?'

Once the UK is in the delay phase of trying to control Covid-19, anyone with cough or cold symptoms or a fever will most likely be told to stay at home for seven days.

The NHS in England is planning to 'ramp up' testing facilities. At the moment, more than 25,000 tests have been conducted by PHE but it is hoped this will rise to 10,000 a day.

A PHE spokeswoman said that, as well as testing close contacts of known cases, a sample of the population was being tested through wider screening of patients admitted to hospital for treatment.

She said: 'We are testing those who are most likely to have contracted coronavirus, either through travel or by having close contact with a confirmed case, with symptoms.

'By doing this, we are able to identify cases and follow up with their contacts to limit onward spread and ensure we are prioritising those who are at highest risk of having the virus.

'We also have a robust surveillance programme in place where we are testing a sample of the population which will help us to understand the level of virus circulating in the community.'


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