LONDON — When it emerged this week that Britain’s prime minister, health secretary and heir to the throne had all tested positive for the coronavirus after presenting mild symptoms, mixed among the supportive messages wishing them speedy recoveries came ones that posed uncomfortable questions.
“How did you get tested when thousands can't?” one Twitter user asked responding to news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on Friday and was self-isolating in London.
“Where did the test kits for Prince Charles and Boris Johnson come from?” another asked, before pointing out that medical workers with Britain's beloved National Health Service were struggling to get tested.
Two days after Charles announced that he had tested positive, Johnson confirmed Friday he was suffering from "mild symptoms," having been tested on the advice of Britain's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed that he had tested positive for the virus, a few hours later. He had said earlier in the week that Britain had bought 3.5 million antibody testing kits and was making sure they worked before distributing them.
It remains unclear in what order of priority they will be distributed.
Not all front-line medics are being tested, a major concern for health workers who risk infecting their patients and families. Others worry about being unduly kept at home when they could be treating the sick.
The lack of clarity on testing kits has become an increasing source of public criticism of the government's response to the pandemic.
Asked Thursday why Charles was able to get tested when others had not, Health Minister Edward Argar told British broadcaster Sky News that the heir to the British throne's symptoms and condition “met the criteria.”
“There is clearly more to do and we are ramping up that effort on testing … and of course key workers, front-line NHS and social care workers are front of the queue for that,” he said, using the British word for line.
Sky News and NBC News are both owned by Comcast.
The United Kingdom's Department of Health and Social Care told NBC News by email Friday that it had tested more than 97,000 people — one of the highest numbers in Europe — and had already set out plans to increase testing capacity to 25,000 people a day.
As news broke that Johnson had contracted the virus, "#prayforboris" and "#Hestheprimeminister" were trending on Twitter in Britain, with many saying it was only reasonable that such a high-profile figure had been tested.
"Nobody with a brain has any issue with Boris or Govt. ministers getting immediately tested," TV host Piers Morgan tweeted, adding, "but everyone should have a massive issue with NHS front-line staff still not getting tested as they risk their lives."
It is not just in Britain that this apparent inequality in coronavirus testing is being called out.
"Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted last week in response to the news that some Brooklyn Nets players who did not show symptoms were among an unknown number of team members tested for COVID-19.
Four tested positive, including three players who were asymptomatic, the team said.
Asked last week whether the well-connected should go to the front of the testing line, President Donald Trump responded: “No, I wouldn’t say so. But perhaps that's the story of life.”
Earlier this month, Trump was also tested and found to be negative for the virus.