'Only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms'

Testing has a crucial role to play in telling us where there are local spikes, therefore informing decisions on whether to tighten or relax social distancing measures. It also helps inform health officials as to the prevalence, spread and contagiousness of the virus.

I understand there are concerns around the availability of tests - a number of constituents have contacted me in frustration as they cannot book a Covid-19 test, despite displaying symptoms.

Firstly, I want to reassure you that the testing system is still operating. More than 19.2 million have been conducted - which is more tests that any other European country. Second on the list is Germany with 13.4 million tests conducted. Both testing and laboratory capacity have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic.

We have a robust testing system that works well, but the challenge is demand. Recently there has been a rise in demand for tests from people who have not been displaying symptoms or contacted via track and trace.

An example of this rise in tests included a number of travellers returning from countries that are not on the corridor list booking tests, most often to avoid the 14-day quarantine period. I can understand why this might seem a good idea, but the guidance is to only book if you have symptoms or have been in contact with a confirmed case.

These are tough times and I completely understand the worry and anxiety caused by Covid-19. So, while not intentional, the impact of people booking tests unnecessarily is having a detrimental impact on those that genuinely need one and on our key workers, who are tested regularly.

As the laboratories are churning at pace through the backlog of tests, please remember to only book a test if you really need one based on the guidance.