Website to book coronavirus tests temporarily closes after ‘significant demand’

Written by Sam Trendall on 24 April 2020 in News

Site pauses applications after several hours

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

A website for key workers to book coronavirus tests has temporarily shut down just a few hours after opening.

The Department of Health and Social Care today launched a GOV.UK service allowing anyone considered an essential worker – or anyone who shares a home with such a person – to register online for a test if they are showing symptoms of Covid-19.

The service allows users to register their details, after which they will be sent a text or email inviting them to either book a test at one about 30 drive-through facilities around the country, or ask for delivery of a home testing kit.

But registrations had closed by about late morning and, as of 3pm, visitors to the site were greeted with a message (pictured above) reading: “You can’t currently register for a COVID-19 test. Please check back here later. If you need any information and advice on COVID-19, read our pages on coronavirus.”

By 4pm, this message had been changed to "Due to the exceptional demand for tests, we have reached today’s capacity for test bookings and home orders. More tests, both for drive-through sites and home delivery, will be made available tomorrow. Please visit this page then."

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Earlier this morning, on Twitter, the DHSC said: “We apologise for any inconvenience. We are continuing to rapidly increase availability. More tests will be available tomorrow.”

Once booking gets underway again, the DHSC indicated its preference for citizens to visit the drive-through sites, if possible.

“Home test kit availability will initially be limited but more will become available,” it said. “There is good availability of regional test sites, so please select this option if you can.”

In addition to online self-referral, government has also created a portal through which employers of essential workers can refer any staff who are self-isolating, or their family members. Organisations wishing to use the service can email and provide email addresses for two people that will be managing access to the portal.

The department will then respond with two sets of login credentials, after which employers can upload a list of names and contact details of any workers they wish to refer for testing. These people will then be sent a text message containing a unique code allowing them to book a test at one of the regional facilities – of which the government intends to open 50 by the end of this month. 

It is estimated that as many as 10 million people will be eligible for testing as part of this programme.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are making it easier, faster and simpler for any essential worker in England who needs a test to get a test.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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