Nicola Sturgeon erupts at Downing Street blame claims as COVID-19 testing explodes

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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was speaking at her daily COVID-19 briefing when she made the comments amid growing fears the UK-wide testing system is struggling to cope with demand. It comes after Ms Sturgeon admitted at Tuesday’s briefing Scotland alone was unable to tackle the testing fiasco.

The First Minister has raised concerns people in Scotland are waiting longer than they should for test results because of constraints at the UK Government’s Lighthouse laboratories, such as the one in Glasgow, despite Number 10’s Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart saying testing capacity in Scotland is “increasing enormously”.

Downing Street’s vigorous rebuttal of the First Minister’s misgivings has sparked fears of a row between Westminster and Holyrood.

The SNP leader also revealed on Tuesday she had spoken to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Downing Street’s testing tsar, Dido Harding to “seek assurances that we will continue to get fair access to the UK-wide laboratory capacity”.

Asked by Express.co.uk whether this admission meant she was trying to blame Downing Street for the backlog in testing, or if it meant Holyrood needed Westminster in its fight against the virus, the First Minister issued a strong rebuke.

She said: “Do not take this robust reply the wrong way.

“But I expect the Daily Express will say I am doing one or other of these things regardless of the content of my answer right now.

“I have been at pains to say I am not trying to blame Westminster, nor am I saying that we need Westminster because we cannot do these things ourselves.

“For good reason, across the four nations of the UK, we thought a networked UK-wide system that could flex capacity and allow these things to be done through a central booking system, was a sensible thing to do.”

However she conceded there were “issues within the system” from a “capacity constraint” point of view, adding: “We are trying to work constructively to resolve this.”

Referring directly to claims from Scotland Office minister Mr Stewart, Ms Sturgeon sought to play down a row.

She said: “And on the Scotland Office minister you refer to, yes, capacity has increased in Scotland as part of this overall approach.

“But the UK Government is not denying that there is a backlog problem. Far from it: they are talking about the sort of things they are trying to do to fix it.

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“So I am not making this up in any way.

“It is real. And I am trying to address it openly so that there is an understanding of the issues we are grappling with.

“More importantly I am trying to ensure the Scottish Government is playing our full part in addressing them.

“And actually I think that is what people should expect of me as First Minister.”

It comes as onne more confirmed coronavirus patient has died in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon has said, bringing the total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 2,501.

The figures are lower than weekly statistics from the National Records of Scotland – which record people who have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus – and show the death total stands at 4,236.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, the First Minister said 23,283 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland, up by 267 from 22,749 the day before.

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