The reality in Bolton is stark. Locals describe car parks full of sick people with no hope of being tested, a desperately overrun A&E department and people with Covid symptoms having to travel hundreds of miles for a test.
The government has been accused of losing control of testing in the area, which has the highest infection rate of Covid-19 in the country, with the public saying that they are starting to feel abandoned.
Rebecca Barlow, 32, a communications coordinator, described the testing capacity in the town as “extremely disappointing” after being forced to travel to Wales to get a test.
The mother-of-two said she had been trying to book a test for her seven-year-old daughter and husband since last Friday, and was eventually offered a test in Deeside, in north Wales.
She said: “My daughter had only been at school for a day when she became ill. The home test was inconclusive so we were told we had to book another – she would need a negative result before she was allowed to return.
“But nothing was coming up in Bolton at all. We spent days on the website and at one point it we were even offered a test in Aberdeen. It was unbelievable.
“This situation penalises the less fortunate because at least we could drive to Wales – there are others who can’t. The whole situation makes me feel unsafe,” she added.
Another desperate woman described spending two days trying to book a test at any site in the town for herself and her young son after they both started to display Covid symptoms.
Hayley, 33, was repeatedly told there were no tests available. After 48 hours of searching she was finally offered a test in Darwen, Lancashire.
“We both started coughing on Sunday. I then tried for two days to book a home test or an appointment at any site in Bolton but I was told there were no home test kits left and no appointments in Bolton at all,” she said.
“I even set my alarm to the early hours of the morning so I could get up and look at the site and beat the crowds. I was on the government site every 10 minutes.
“I was beyond anxious because my partner is self-employed and we can’t afford for him to self-isolate so we needed the test to prove that we didn’t have the virus.
“Most people in Bolton feel so frustrated. The testing system just seems so illogical and it is causing so much anxiety.”
With 196 cases for every 100,000 people, the Greater Manchester town was confirmed to have one of the highest infection rates in Europe outside of Spain after a sharp rise in cases.
On Saturday, a mobile coronavirus testing centre failed to turn up at a hotel in Bromley Cross in the town, leaving dozens waiting hours for an appointment, before eventually being sent home without being tested.
Others have been turning up at a “very busy” Royal Bolton Hospital A&E with managers issuing a plea for the public to stop attending.
Prof Donna Hall, who leads Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, said the government’s strategy was “fundamentally flawed”.
Yasmin Qureshi, a Labour MP for Bolton South East, echoed Hall’s frustrations. “What we are seeing here are very sick people who feel they have been forgotten about,” she said.
“We need Bolton to be prioritised with extra testing because the current system is completely overwhelmed and isn’t working,” she added.