“Exceptionally high demand” is behind people with coronavirus symptoms being temporarily unable to book PCR test slots at walk-in or drive-through sites across England, officials say.
Twice briefly on Tuesday, the Government website said there were no slots available for PCR tests at walk-in and drive-in test sites across every region of England, before making more slots available.
UK Health Security Agency sources said “exceptionally high demand” for the in-person tests has created pressure on the system and led to temporary reduced availability in some areas.
More slots were made available on Tuesday afternoon across all regions, but these are understood to be for Wednesday onwards.
There are none listed as available in Hartlepool in the North East and Sedgemoor in the South West.
PCR test kits which are posted to people’s homes, usually arriving the following day, remain available.
The public are being advised to try again later if they cannot get a test, which will not be available through helplines.
Seven of the 10 areas which saw the biggest week-on-week jump in case rates between December 2 and 9 are in the capital, and the Government has previously said it expects Omicron to become the dominant strain there by Tuesday.
It comes as problems ordering rapid lateral flow tests enter their second day, as new guidance came into force for coronavirus close contacts.
Double jabbed people are now being asked to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days if they come into contact with someone with Covid-19.
People who test positive or develop symptoms are still required to isolate, as are unvaccinated people who are “not eligible for this new daily testing policy”, according to the Government website.
Lateral flow tests are unavailable to be ordered via the Government website, although it is understood that a number were available in the early hours of Tuesday.
A message on the site says there are no home delivery slots available for the tests, although they can still be collected from pharmacies.
Ministers have insisted there is no issue over supply, but rather there are constraints on the delivery system for the tests, as they encouraged people to pick up testing kits from their local pharmacies.
However, many people have reported that their local pharmacy is out of stock.
Downing Street said ministers were working with Royal Mail and Amazon to “further expand capacity” and ensure more lateral flow tests can be delivered.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman also said there is significant PCR testing capacity, despite the localised unavailability of slots at walk-in and drive-through sites.
Addressing the Science and Technology Committee of MPs, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, said there are “plenty” of lateral flow tests available to meet demand.
“The testing team have assured me that we have plenty of lateral flow tests in warehouses, plenty more are in order to service the demand from the population of the coming weeks,” she said.
She said that daily lateral flow testing for fully vaccinated close contacts of Covid-19 patients should “take priority over PCR tests if we run short of PCR capacity”.
“We would want to maintain PCR capacity for people with symptomatic disease, those being admitted to hospital, those in care homes that test regularly from staff and from residents and in situations where we were investigating an outbreak or a cluster in a high risk environment,” Dr Hopkins added.