Confusion over Southend coronavirus test centre leads to ‘chaos’

There has been “chaos” at a Government-run Covid test centre in Southend as people lined up in huge queues hoping to get a test, despite many not having an appointment.

The coronavirus test centre on Short Street has become overwhelmed with people hoping to get a test due to many being unaware that they need to book ahead of time.

Furthermore, the Government-run booking system which is operated by the Department of Health and Social Care has been plagued with problems leaving many unable to make an appointment.

Southend resident Rachelle Stone, 42, said she passed the test centre on Tuesday and called it “chaos”.

She said: “Almost everybody there had primary school age children who had symptoms but have been told they can’t go back to school until they have had a test.

“I spoke to some people and they told me they turned up because either they couldn’t book online or they heard on the grapevine they would get a test if they just show up.

“The queues went all the way around the site. I was gobsmacked.”

She further explained that many people in the queue were not properly following coronavirus safety measures, with both adults and children not wearing masks despite being there because they have symptoms of the virus.

She added: “Virtually everybody had kids and the kids were the ones coughing but they weren’t wearing masks. It was chaos.”

Southend Council’s director of public health, Krishna Ramkhelawon, said he is very aware of the problems at the site and has urged people not to go unless they have an appointment.

His biggest concern is that people standing in the queues will potentially spread the virus.

He said anyone that does end up in a queue for a test centre should be at least “two metres away from each other”.

He continued: “This is meant to be a booked service, but I have been made aware of a number of social media posts where people are saying to just turn up. This was never meant to be a walk-in service.”

The council is now discussing with the Government what can be done at the site and how it can be made clearer that the facility is only for people who have booked.

Council leader Ian Gilbert said: “We understand the problems that people are having with the national booking site and we have raised these concerns at a national level.

“I am also concerned to see the images of queues outside the testing centre.

“It is clear from these images that local people are turning up to be tested without an appointment, and this is another issue that we have raised with the Department for Health and Social Care who run the local walk-through testing site.

“I urge local people to only attend the Short Street site if they have a booked appointment, and to please only book a test if you have Coronavirus symptoms.

“If you book or turn up for a test without symptoms, you are taking testing capacity from those people who really need it.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter