UK vows to ‘massively’ increase virus testing amid criticism

A cyclist rides near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster to take their daily exercise allowance in London on April 2, 2020, as life in Britain continues during the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)
Short Url
Updated 02 April 2020

UK vows to ‘massively’ increase virus testing amid criticism

  • Johnson’s Conservative government vowed weeks ago to rapidly increase the number of tests for the new coronavirus to 10,000 a day, then 25,000 a day by mid-April
  • Like some other countries, the UK has limited virus testing to hospitalized patients, leaving people with milder symptoms unsure whether they were infected

LONDON: Political opponents, scientists and even usually supportive newspapers lambasted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday over his government’s broken promises on wider testing for the COVID-19 virus.
Johnson’s Conservative government vowed weeks ago to rapidly increase the number of tests for the new coronavirus to 10,000 a day, then 25,000 a day by mid-April. But progress has been slow. The government says 10,412 tests were performed Tuesday, the first time the daily target was met.
Like some other countries, the UK has limited virus testing to hospitalized patients, leaving people with milder symptoms unsure whether they were infected. Many scientists say wider testing — especially of health care workers — would allow medics who are off work with symptoms to return if their results are negative, and would give a better picture of how the virus spreads.
Johnson tested positive for the virus a week ago and revealed last Friday that he had mild symptoms of COVID-19 disease. He has continued working while in self-isolation and promised in a video message that the government was “massively increasing testing.”
Testing “is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle. This is how we will defeat it in the end,” Johnson said.
Opinion polls suggest Britons have been largely supportive of the government’s efforts to contain the new coronavirus. Johnson ordered residents to stay home except for a handful of permitted circumstances and ordered the closure of schools, bars, restaurants and non-essential shops.
But as the number of virus-related deaths in the UK accelerated in recent days, the unity behind the government’s response is shattering. The country had more than 29,800 cases and more than 2,350 deaths as of Thursday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
The right-leaning Daily Mail newspaper slammed the “testing fiasco” on its front page Thursday. “Questions without Answers,” said the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph, accusing the government of being unable to say why Britain lagged behind its European neighbors on testing.
Critics compare Britain’s approach to testing unfavorably to the one in Germany, which has the ability to test 500,000 people a week and has reported fewer deaths among people with the virus
The government says testing front-line health care workers is a priority, and it set up five drive-through test centers to do it. But they had tested only 2,800 people by Thursday, from a National Health Service workforce of more than 1 million.
Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of Public Health England, acknowledged that “everybody involved is frustrated that we haven’t got to the place where we’ve got to get to.”
Part of the problem is Britain’s centralized state-funded health system, which is fairly efficient at organizing hospital treatment but poor at rapidly boosting testing capacity. All coronavirus tests were initially processed at a single Public Health England laboratory, though several other public labs are now also handling the tests.
British officials also blame shortages of swabs to take samples and of chemicals known as reagents, which are needed to perform the tests, for the delay in ramping up testing.
But private-sector firms and academic institutes say their offers of help have so far been ignored.
Paul Nurse, chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute for biomedical research, said its laboratory had been repurposed so it could carry out 500 tests a day by next week, rising to 2,000 a day in future.
He compared the effort required to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British troops from the French port of Dunkirk as it was overrun by German forces in 1940 — a rescue that saw hundreds of small private boats join the navy in plucking soldiers from the beaches.
“We are a lot of little boats. and the little boats can be effective,” Nurse said. “The government has put some big boats, destroyers in place. That’s a bit more cumbersome to get working and we wish them all the luck to do that, but we little boats can contribute as well.”


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”