Great Britain

Teenage school-leavers are being put to work in Covid-19 labs to end test chaos

TEENAGE school-leavers are being recruited to work in labs testing for Covid-19 to help end the chaos.

But the development has sparked an angry response from Labour.

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Year-long contracts are being offered to 18-year-olds by the privately run Lighthouse Laboratories to boost staffing levels.

School-leavers can apply for “several hundred opportunities” at centres across the country. 

Officials say the move will enable gap year students to “make a significant contribution” to the national effort — and to be paid for those efforts. 

Department for Education chiefs claim it will allow the youngsters to acquire “new skills and undertake work placements” as part of careers development.

But Labour MP Chris Evans rapped: “Hiring youngsters raises serious questions over the long-term strategy on testing.

“There can be no substitute for experience at the sharp end of the system. The capacity and staffing should be up and running without having to rely on those who’ve just left education.”

There are five Lighthouse labs at sites including Milton Keynes and Glasgow. A sixth in Newport is opening followed by one in Loughborough.

It has also emerged teams of management consultants are being drafted in to bolster the £10billion test and trace system. Hundreds of KPMG workers are on standby to fill back-office roles in coming months.

Limited lab capacity has led to hundreds of thousands of people being unable to get tests. Without the all-clear, schools have closed and A&E departments have been bombarded for tests.

Thousands were turned away from test centres on Friday owing to a barcode glitch at centres in South London, Chester and Solihull, West Midlands. The system failed to send out QR codes with bookings.

PM Boris Johnson has vowed to reach a daily testing capacity of 500,000 by the end of October. It now stands at 242,000.

But there are signs the Government believes the pandemic could continue for another two years. Ministers have put out to tender a two-year contract to deliver 200,000 home testing kits a day — with an option for a further six months. Contract details were released this week for the £785million deal.

It states: “The ambition of NHS Test and Trace is to ensure everyone who needs a test has access to one.”

Meanwhile, experts on the ­Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies have warned the Government the movement of the 1.8million student population will have to be closely monitored towards the end of the year.

The scientists say larger outbreaks are more likely to occur and students travelling across the country could lead to elderly relatives being infected.

Last night, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ramped up the pressure on the Government to get testing under control.

He wants ministers to put children at the front of the queue for tests to avoid pupils missing lessons. Sir Keir accused the Government of “treating families as an afterthought”.

And the hospitality sector has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding a breakdown of data collected to support extra restrictions on venues in Bolton, Lancs.

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