People in the UK are turning to mail-order coronavirus tests as the government scrambles to offer mass public testing and get a hold on the virus’ spread across the country.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, recently returning to public life after testing positive for coronavirus, announced Thursday the UK would aim to test 100,000 Britons a day by the end of April. Critics of the government’s stark U-turn on testing suggest it may have been spurred by about 8% of National Health Service (NHS) staff being off work because of Covid-19-related issues.
But at the moment, these government-funded tests by hospitals are unavailable to most people and are still reserved for those with severe symptoms and some health care workers.
In a tiny, airless office in Old Street in east London, the business Rightangled is offering a solution – at a price. The DNA testing firm is here hurriedly repurposing its health testing kits to be mailed to customers for about £200 ($250) each. The coronavirus testing service sounds like a dream solution.
The kits arrive in the mail, you follow the video to take a swab from your throat, and send the sample back in a biohazard bag. The results come back around three days later.
But the price tag, unaffordable to many, is just one drawback.
CEO Abdullah Sabyah said he had thousands of orders in just a week, and is offering half-price discounts for staff in the UK’s free health care service, the NHS. But even at a reduced price of £100 ($122) the tests do not provide a broad solution to the UK’s testing crisis.
The UK’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, had said in mid-March that public “testing will be based on symptoms and severity” as the broad spread of the disease meant “it is no longer needed for us to identity every case.” Yet Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence last week that testing is “so, so important” means the UK is racing to make testing as widespread as possible just at the time when it is expected to reach its peak of infections.