“These mega labs are future-proofing our national infrastructure to respond to future epidemics and improving care for other diseases, such as cancer. The new labs build on our existing testing network which we created in a matter of months and confirms the UK as a world leader in diagnostics.
“The work going on in these labs is ultimately working to save lives.”
The Government’s test and trace system has been plagued with problems, with the proportion receiving their results within 24 hours falling to a low of just 15.1 per cent in mid-October.
Although capacity is nearly 520,000, the latest figures, for last Thursday, show just under 380,000 tests were conducted, the most since the start of the pandemic, with about 70 per cent of people receiving the results back the next day.
The Prime Minister has put test and trace at the heart of the Government’s strategy to combat the spread of the disease but Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific officer, admitted delays have “diminished” the effectiveness of the scheme.
Ministers hope the labs, with their cutting-edge robotics and automation, will significantly reduce the time it takes to process the tests.
Baroness Dido Harding, the under-fire head of test and trace who is taking over as chair of the new national institute for public protection, said the labs would “not only mean more tests but it will also mean they can be processed more quickly and the time it takes to receive results is reduced”.
UK testing capacity has increased from 100,000 per day at the end of April and comes on top of rapid “lateral flow” Covid-19 tests which were piloted in Liverpool for asymptomatic people and can provide results in as little as 15 minutes.
They are currently being rolled out to 67 more authorities.
Prof Sir Ian Diamond, the head of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), said the measures had slowed the coronavirus growth rate, raising hopes of lifting the national lockdown on December 2, although with the R rate at 1.25, the pandemic is still spreading and increasing.
“We are continuing to increase the numbers but the good news is, yes, we are seeing a slow down in the rate of growth,” he said.