Google-backed virus testing site books up on first day

When someone is screened for testing, they will receive a call-back confirmation to schedule an appointment. (AP pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: A website to screen people for coronavirus tests run by Google parent Alphabet Inc reached capacity and stopped accepting appointments on its first full day of operation.

Verily, a healthcare unit of Alphabet, opened the website Sunday evening in partnership with US government officials. The tests were initially open to residents in two counties in Northern California.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to schedule more appointments at this time,” a message on the website read on Monday. The site said it would be able to expand the testing programme in “the near future”.

Verily and Google scrambled to put together a plan over the weekend after US President Donald Trump promised a nationwide testing website.

“All appointments require a call-back confirmation to schedule an appointment. If someone were to fill out the questionnaire overnight, they would go into a queue to be called the next day should they qualify,” a Verily spokeswoman said on Monday.

“In these first few days of this pilot, we expect appointment availability to be limited as we stand up operations and that testing capacity will increase in the days to come.”

Verily sent updates via Twitter later on Monday, warning people not to use the tool if they are seriously ill. That suggests the Alphabet unit was flooded with sign-ups.

“Please note, this program is intended to expand access to COVID-19 risk screening and testing,” Verily tweeted.

“This program is not intended for people experiencing concerning symptoms who may need more acute medical care, as our mobile testing sites are not currently prepared to provide care.”

Individuals must receive a call-back confirmation to schedule an appointment. If someone is screened in for testing, they will go into a queue to be called, the company added.

“We are early in this pilot and are going to be learning more that will help us refine this COVID-19 risk screening and testing,” Verily wrote.

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