The Prime Minister has apologised for the “bad experiences” people have had in getting a coronavirus test, after some reported major delays and travelling hundreds of miles to get tested.
Boris Johnson blamed a “fraying of discipline” over the summer period for the recent spike in cases, and rejected claims there was a lack of communication between Westminster and local government.
While he admitted testing has not been “as fast as elsewhere”, he was adamant that more tests were being carried out in the UK than any other European country.
Speaking to BBC London on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “Of course there are people who’ve had bad experiences and I apologise for the bad experiences that people have had with NHS Test and Trace.
“But it is a fact that we are conducting more tests than any other European countries, 20 million people have been tested.
“Yes, it is true that in London, it’s not been as fast as elsewhere but we are seeing a rise in cases now.
“Alas! Because we came together as a country, we got the numbers down and I’m afraid some of the muscle memory has faded.”
When asked whether he took responsibility for infection rates going up, he replied: “I, of course, take full responsibility for everything the Government has done.”
His comments come after figures from NHS Test and Trace on Thursday revealed three in 10 people testing positive for Covid-19 and identified by the tracking service could not be contacted.
Between September 17 and 23, 71.6% were reached and asked to provide information about their contacts – a fall from 76.3% in the previous week.
The Government has come under fire over its testing strategy due to delays and availability, with one key worker claiming he was forced to take a 100-mile round trip including boarding a ferry for a coronavirus test.
Martin Baker, a technical trainer from Farnham, Surrey, described the testing system as a “mockery” after the NHS Covid-19 app told him the nearest site where tests were available was on the Isle of Wight.
In the north of England, where cases have soared and large areas placed under local restrictions, Test and Trace has only managed to reach 46% of contacts in Bradford, 50% in Blackburn and Darwin and 51% in Oldham since it launched on May 28 for non-complex cases that are handled online or by call centres.
Asked by BBC North East and Cumbria whether a lack of testing had allowed the virus to get out of control in the North East, Mr Johnson said: “That’s not the reality… the nation came together in March and April, what happened over the summer was a bit of sort of fraying of people’s discipline and attention to those rules.”
He also rejected comments from the mayor of Middlesbrough that there’s a “frightening lack of communication with local government”.
Mr Johnson said: “We work very closely with local government across the country.”
While talking about plans to build more hospitals, he said: “NHS staff are like professional footballers being asked to play on a ploughed field.”