UK lawmakers say testing lapses increased nursing home toll

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A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station as train services increased as part of the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, in London, Monday May 18, 2020.Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last Sunday that people could return to work if they could not work from home. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

LONDON – An influential group of British lawmakers on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government of failing to conduct enough tests for the new coronavirus, saying the lapse helped COVID-19 cut a deadly swath through U.K. nursing homes.

As official statistics revealed more than 11,000 coronavirus deaths in British nursing homes, the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee said “testing capacity has been inadequate for most of the pandemic so far.”

In a letter to the prime minister, committee chairman Greg Clark said Britain’s limited testing capacity “drove strategy, rather than strategy driving capacity.”

U.K. authorities initially sought to trace and test everyone who had been in contact with people infected with the coronavirus. But they abandoned that strategy in mid-March as the number of infections overwhelmed the country’s testing resources.

The government's deputy chief scientific adviser, Angela McLean, acknowledged that the March 12 decision was driven by capacity and not merely science.

“The advice that we gave certainly took account of the testing that was available," she told a news conference. "It was the best thing to do with the tests that we had.”

Johnson’s Conservative government has faced growing criticism as Britain suffers one of the world’s worst coronavirus death tolls. The government’s official tally of deaths among people who tested positive for the virus stands at 35,341, second only to the U.S. When suspected as well as confirmed cases are added, the toll is well over 40,000.

More than 11,000 of those deaths occurred in nursing homes in England and Wales, according to figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics.