Coronavirus testing centre 'disappeared overnight' to make way for Brexit lorry park

Local residents left confused about where to get tested

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 25 September 2020 12:47
A coronavirus test is deposited at a mobile Covid-19 testing centre in Peterborough.  (FILE)
A coronavirus test is deposited at a mobile Covid-19 testing centre in Peterborough. (FILE)

A coronavirus testing centre on the south coast has "disappeared overnight" to make way for a Brexit lorry park, leaving some local residents confused about where to get tested.

Portsmouth City Council's cabinet member for health, Matthew Winnington, said the government and its private contractors had not told him the site would be moving early.

"We didn't have a clue it would be moving earlier than planned. We have absolutely no idea why we weren't informed," he told the Press Association news agency.

"It makes me feel ridiculous because people are then saying to me, 'this test site has moved, do you know about that?' and I have to tell them I didn't know."

The abrupt change is the latest mishap for the government's test-and-trace scheme, which has been dogged by lack of capacity and other problems such as disappearing or closed testing centres.

Across the country, potentially infected people have reported being told to drive long distances to get tested, only be confronted with a closed or absent testing centre.  

Local government leaders have also voiced repeated concerns that the government is failing to share information with them that could help them tackle the pandemic.

But in order to prepare for Britain leaving the European single market and customs union at the end of the year, the government is preparing vast waiting areas for lorries, which are due to face long delays crossing the channel. 

The decision to leave on such hard terms is expected to cause significant economic disruption and retail groups have warned there could be shortages of goods such as those seen at the start of the pandemic.

In some cases, the sites required to lorry parks are currently the first choice to site coronavirus testing centres, which must now move to make way for the government’s flagship policy.

Local councils and public health bodies are partly responsible for co-ordinating local testing centres along with the Department of Health.

But Mr Winnington said the lack of communication suggested that it "almost seems the DHSC didn't know when it moved", adding that this was "even more concerning".

It is understood that the site, which is operated by Big Four accounting firm Deloitte, which holds some test and trace contracts, has now moved to Southampton Airport.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Regional testing sites were set up at great speed to provide access to tests for key workers across the UK.

"Sites were selected where there was immediate availability, as well as being secure and easily accessible.

"To make sure the regional testing site network remains available for as long as is needed, a small number of sites are being relocated.

"The Portsmouth Tipner Lorry Park site has been successfully relocated to the Long Stay Car Park at Southampton Airport to ensure that tests continue to be available in the region."

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