Second Covid testing site disappears to make way for new Brexit lorry park

A sign is put up at the new walk-through testing centre which will open today at Glasgow Caledonian

A sign is put up at the new walk-through testing centre which will open today at Glasgow Caledonian University's ARC sports centre, in central Glasgow. - Credit: PA

A second coronavirus testing site has “disappeared overnight” to make way for a post-Brexit lorry park.

The Tipner drive-through centre in Portsmouth, which is owned by Deloitte, was due to become a lorry site on October 5, but was moved to Southampton Airport ahead of schedule and without warning.

Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for health, Matthew Winnington, told the PA news agency he had “no clue” the site would move early, adding the health secretary should “take responsibility” for the change.

Winnington said: “Matt Hancock has to take responsibility for this, especially as he’s a former minister for Portsmouth so should know the importance of ensuring Portsmouth and the surrounding area is kept in the loop when things like this happen.”

“The DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) needs to get a grip,” he added.

This comes after a testing site at a railway station car park in Kent was suspended earlier this month.

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KentOnline reported that a leaked letter from Kent County Council stated: “We have … been notified that the Ebbsfleet testing centre has closed, as the site is required by HMRC for EU Exit.”

It is understood the car park was being considered for use as a site to carry out customs checks when Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

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Department of Health has disputed Winnington's claims saying the Portsmouth site had been moved “more than a week ago”.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said it happened suddenly on Wednesday – a view shared by Portsmouth residents.

Winnington said: “It didn’t go a week ago, it was around Wednesday evening. It almost seems the DHSC didn’t know when it moved and that’s even more concerning.

“We didn’t have a clue it would be moving earlier than planned. We have absolutely no idea why we weren’t informed.

“It makes me feel ridiculous because people are then saying to me, ‘this test site has moved, do you know about that?’ and I have to tell them I didn’t know.”

He added the Department of Health has failed to communicate properly with Portsmouth City Council about other major public health changes, including an ongoing problem over guidance about where Isle of Wight residents should get tested.

“We have got people from the Isle of Wight coming to the mainland for testing, because they are being told they should do that by the DHSC,” he said.

“They shouldn’t be using public transport while they have symptoms, but what the government website is saying is that they have to.

“It’s just not good enough, and it really gives me concern about what other things we haven’t heard about with regards to the pandemic.

“If it’s happening to us, it’s happening to other places across the country too.”

Local councils, local resilience forums and some emergency services staff are responsible for co-ordinating local testing centres along with the Department of Health.

Adrian Baker, GMB workers’ union regional organiser, also blamed the government for “failing to inform the local authority” that the testing site was moving early.

Baker said: “Test and Trace has become trace the test. This dereliction of duty is quite incredible.

“What are the public and workers supposed to do if the government doesn’t even know how long a testing site will be available for?”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Regional testing sites were set up at great speed to provide access to tests for key workers across the UK.

“Sites were selected where there was immediate availability, as well as being secure and easily accessible.

“To make sure the regional testing site network remains available for as long as is needed, a small number of sites are being relocated.

“The Portsmouth Tipner Lorry Park site has been successfully relocated to the Long Stay Car Park at Southampton Airport to ensure that tests continue to be available in the region.”

Deloitte has also been contacted about the site move.

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