Scotland is fighting coronavirus with “one arm behind our back” as fewer tests are being carried out compared to other parts of the UK, Labour’s Richard Leonard has claimed.
He said research by Scottish Labour shows that in the last few weeks, “Scotland has carried fewer tests per 100,000 than any other nation of the UK”.
The party said that in the week ending January 11, 2,966.7 tests per 100,000 people were carried out in Scotland, compared to 6,065.4 per 100,000 in England, 3,849 per 100,000 in Northern Ireland and 3,460.4 per 100,000 in Wales.
During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Wednesday, Mr Leonard said: “Over the last week Scotland carried out half the number of tests per 100,000 compared to England.”
He said experts say this means “we are only finding half, or less than half, of the cases”.
He told Nicola Sturgeon: “This is like fighting the epidemic with one arm behind our back.”
But the First Minister insisted figures are lower in Scotland because prevalence of the virus is lower.
She said: “These are the figures of the demand-led testing scheme, people who have symptoms going to a drive-through centre or a mobile testing unit or ordering a home test and getting tests.
“The reason that the numbers going through that are lower in Scotland than other parts of the UK is that in Scotland, even though prevalence of the virus is much higher than we want it to be and rising, is lower than it is in other parts of the UK. It is perhaps less than a third what is in some other parts of the UK.
“So in very simple terms, that means there are fewer people with symptoms putting the demand on those tests.”
But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie then asked the First Minister why testing is not being used to “hunt down the virus in our communities”.
He said: “If half the people who have the virus don’t know they’ve got it, why isn’t the Scottish Government using that capacity to find them?
“The reality is there’s 65,000 tests available and she’s not using half of them.
“Just like on business grants, the Government is great at making announcements on testing but very poor on the actual delivery.”
Mr Rennie went on to call for mass PCR testing sites outside supermarkets, at postal sorting offices and in other public places.
The First Minister said she would not commit to the mass PCR testing, because those same places would likely be used by lateral flow tests in the future.
She told MSPs plans for a larger rollout of asymptomatic testing will be announced soon.
Pilots were carried out before Christmas, she said, adding the Government is working with councils on plans to “roll them out on a bigger scale”.
She added: “We are looking at rolling this out very quickly, asymptomatic testing to industrial sites to help with workforce containment as well and we will be setting out details of those plans very, very soon.
“That is work in process. All of that is work that is being done at pace, it is important work.”