ANXIOUS patients are being forced to wait up to seven days to learn if they have the dreaded Covid-19 as inundated labs struggle to do thousands of tests.
The delays are severely hindering efforts to stop the virus spreading because until a positive test result comes back, close contacts cannot be alerted.
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It comes as it emerged there had been 1,140 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, up from 798 at the same time on Friday.
Public Health England (PHE) insists the vast majority are done within 48 hours.
But former Love Island contestant, Alex George, an A&E doctor at University Hospital Lewisham, told the Times the “reality [was] actually about seven days”.
At the start of the crisis, PHE relied on one lab in London. It is now using 12.
George said it was “not a fault of the labs” but said capacity was being stretched.
He said: "What we want is for them to tell people quicker.
"If it’s taking eight days for people to realise they have the virus, that makes contact tracing very difficult."
Dr Susan Hopkins, deputy director of the National Infection Service, said as the country move forward the NHS would have to prioritise testing.
She said: "Prioritise our testing for sick people in hospital so that we prevent any outbreaks, or reduce the risks of outbreaks in hospital.
"Prioritise our testing for those that are more unwell at home, more vulnerable. I'm particularly thinking of the elderly.
"So, I see us moving, slowly to the scenario where we prioritise people who get tests."
It comes as elderly people will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months, as the UK escalates its fight against coronavirus.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is a "very big ask", but it is a measure which is for their own "self-protection".
In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Mr Hancock said the steps are "very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country".
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