The testing system for coronavirus in the US is currently failing, a top health official has admitted.
“The system is not really geared to what we need right now… let’s admit it,” said Dr Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Authorities in the US have come under fire for carrying out far fewer tests than many other affected countries.
There are currently more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus in the US.
President Donald Trump says the US has “a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to be tested”. However, he has not given further details, and there has not been routine testing for the virus in the US.
How many tests are being done in the US?
In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Vice-President Mike Pence could not confirm how many Americans had been tested for the virus, saying he “would leave that to the experts”.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), a total of at least 11,079 specimens have been tested since January. However, the number of people tested is likely to be lower, as patients typically provide at least two specimens for testing.
Furthermore, government officials say they do not know the number of people being tested, because some tests are being conducted by private hospitals and laboratories that have not been reporting in to the CDC.
The Atlantic, which is runninga project to track the number of testsbeing conducted, estimates about 8,000 people have been tested. Meanwhile,lawmakers who went to a briefingwith health officials told Politico that fewer than 10,000 Americans had been tested.
By contrast, South Korea has tested more than 210,000 people and is testing nearly 20,000 people every day, while in the UK, more than 29,700 people have been tested, and more than 1,000 tests are being carried out per day.
In neighbouring Canada, there are currently about 100 confirmed cases. About half of those are in Ontario, which has tested about 4,185 samples.
Dr Fauci acknowledged to a congressional hearing that the US faced particular difficulties with testing. “The idea of anybody getting it [testing] easily, the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. I think it should be, but we’re not.”
Why has testing in the US been slow?
It could be down to a combination of factors.
The US declined to use a test approved by the World Health Organization in January – instead, the CDC developed its own coronavirus test. However, there were manufacturing defects with the initial CDC tests which meant many of the results were inconclusive.
Lawmakers who attended Thursday’s health briefing said that there were also problems with the supply chain for testing kits, with stocks of cotton swabs and gloves running low.
And earlier this week, the director of the CDC told a congressional hearing: “There’s not enough equipment, there’s not enough pe