Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, has slammed the government’s woefully inadequate roll-out of covid-19 testing for key-workers, describing it as “an utter mess”.
Many FBU members have been drafted in as support staff for the health service during the coronavirus emergency, in addition to their regular duties, including driving ambulances.
According to Wrack, at one point there were 3,000 fire and rescue personnel in self-isolation due to coronavirus, unable to get tested, hopefully to be given an all-clear so that they can get back to work. This, the union chief warned, could affect fire cover.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised that his government would make it possible to conduct 250,000 tests per day by the end of this month. By this week, government figures suggest that not even one-tenth of that number of tests were being carried out.
As Inside Croydon reported yesterday, MPs and the Bishop of Croydon have also highlighted issues with the distribution of the drive-in testing centres – as well as placing an expectation on the key-worker to own a car and to be well enough to drive, the nearest testing centre to Croydon is 10 miles away, at Chessington.
Today, after Whitehall began its roll-out of 50 extra testing centres, the government website crashed.
Wrack said, “The government’s testing roll-out has been an utter mess. There was clearly no comprehensive key-worker testing strategy and we have spent weeks pressuring the government to increase the availability of covid-19 tests.
“At our last count, there were around 3,000 fire and rescue personnel in self-isolation due to coronavirus. That now seems to have fallen slightly – but, without frequent, easily accessible testing, including for those without symptoms, there is a serious risk of staff shortages affecting fire cover.
“We are glad the government has finally listened to us and opened up testing further, and we will be watching closely to ensure our concerns about the accessibility and frequency of testing are properly addressed.
“But the fact that the website has crashed on the day of its launch is symptomatic of the failure to plan properly.
“All key workers, including firefighters, need to have easy access to regular testing to ensure that they are not infectious and can stay on the job. But we also need to talk about testing the general public – it’s an essential part of a strategy to truly get a grip of this crisis.”
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