Staff at the UK’s biggest testing lab in Milton Keynes have been hit by an outbreak of coronavirus as the country struggles to contain the soaring number of infections.
Cases have been reported in three of the four scientific teams at Milton Keynes Lighthouse Laboratory, Sky News said on Christmas Eve. Sky said there had also been cases among the admin and warehouse departments.
It is believed that, as a result of the outbreak, about 20 members of a 70-person lab team are isolating.
The site is being asked to process 70,000 tests a day to keep up with rising demand. A whistleblower told Sky News that Covid safety measures had been breached.
The lighthouse laboratories are large-scale centres set up to try to increase testing capacity.
New testing labs were opened in two London university laboratories in December, and another will be opened in the capital shortly, according to Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) officials.
Case levels in London have tripled in the last fortnight, the latest Public Health England figures have shown. Across the country, there were more than 39,000 cases reported on Christmas Eve, up more than 3,000 on the daily total a week earlier.
People have faced problems getting tests in London and parts of the south-east. On Saturday, the day the capital was placed in tier-4 restrictions, no tests were shown as being available at one point.
The DHSC confirmed the outbreak at Milton Keynes, and said anyone who is symptomatic or received a positive test is now self-isolating. It denied the whistleblower’s claims to Sky News and said the lab has been following government guidelines on Covid-secure workplaces.
It said extra resources were being provided to ensure testing capacity is at maximum levels throughout Christmas.
A spokesperson said: “NHS Test and Trace continues to test record numbers of people, and people can have confidence that if they have symptoms and need a test, they can get one.
“We are delivering an unprecedented volume of tests – more than 450,000 yesterday alone – and during periods of high demand our focus is ensuring that anyone with symptoms can get a test.
“All our test sites and our home test service will be available for bookings as normal over the Christmas period.”