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Islington mum’s ordeal to get Covid test her daughter

'I can’t afford not to be at work. I work for an agency and I only get paid on the days I work'

21 September, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Balqis Mukhtar

A woman has spent every day this week trying to get a Covid-19 test for her daughter, forcing her to take unpaid leave as her children cannot attend school.

Single mother Balqis Mukhtar was only an hour-and-a-half into her 12-hour shift on Monday when she got a call from Pakeman Primary School informing her that her daughter had developed a temperature.

Ms Mukhtar, who has worked throughout lockdown helping the homeless, had to drop everything and rush back and pick up her Year 4 daughter and Year 6 son from the Hornsey Road school.

The children would not be allowed back until they had received a negative result in a coronavirus test, or isolated for 10 days, Ms Mukhtar was told. “I can’t afford not to be at work,” she said. “I work for an agency and I only get paid on the days I work. I spent all day trying to book them a test. I refreshed the government’s page again and again and again, but nothing. I tried at midnight because I thought there would be less people online, but I gave up when they had offered nothing by 3am.”

Ms Mukhtar, who lives in the Amwell area near Angel, added: “Children have not been in school for six months. Of course their immune systems are down. Now they are back, there are going to be all sorts of bugs going around. Now my children are going to miss more school, it is very damaging.”

As of last night (Thursday) she’d still had no success getting a test.

Ms Mukhtar is one of the thousands of people in Islington and across the country who have been left stranded by the near-collapse of the government’s testing system, leaving many sectors on the brink. More than 300 schools have had to close.

The Town Hall’s education chief and newly appointed deputy leader Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz told the Tribune that no schools in the borough had had to close because of an outbreak so far.

She added: “The government have put families in a situation where they have been told to go back to work while schools have been told to follow strict guidelines to keep themselves and children safe. This all needs to be backed up with a competent testing system. It is disgraceful that that isn’t there.

“I have never seen such systematic incompetence.” She added: “We all knew what going back to school meant, children mixing with friends and getting colds.

“Responsible adults can’t send children in if they are coughing and plenty of viral infections have coughs as a symptom. How did the government not see this coming?”

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said she had been contacted by scores of parents who were being told to travel as far as Aberdeen in Scotland to get a test.  A Department of Health and Social Care spokes­man said: “NHS Test and Trace is providing tests at an unprecedented scale – 200,000 a day on average over the last week – with the vast majority of people getting tested within six miles of their home. “There has been a spike in demand in recent weeks and the message is clear – only people with symptoms should be requesting a test.

“We’re doing everything possible to overcome this challenge – including by bringing in new labs that can process tens of thousands of tests a day, opening new test sites, and trialling new rapid tests that will give results on the spot. “As we expand capacity further, we will continue to work around the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get one.”

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