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Government on verge of reaching testing target after late surge

By PA News
A tester holds a testing swab at a drive-through coronavirus testing site (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The Government’s ambitious daily coronavirus testing target could yet be met after Boris Johnson announced a sudden increase in the number carried out.

The Prime Minister said 81,611 tests were performed on 55,575 people on Wednesday, up from 52,429 tests the day before.

The testing numbers for Thursday are expected to be announced on Friday, which will confirm whether the Government’s 100,000 target for the end of the month – set by Health Secretary Matt Hancock on April 2 – has been reached.

The Government’s testing supremo, Professor John Newton, described the testing capacity as “world-leading in its scale and sophistication” and said the target was now “very close” to being achieved.

So low were the figures going into Thursday that Justice Secretary Robert Buckland acknowledged the goal might be missed.

But the Government has continued to expand those eligible for tests, drawing criticism from NHS Providers who described it as a “red herring” which it said distracted from shortcomings in the long-term strategy to contain coronavirus.

Speaking during the Downing Street press briefing on Thursday, Mr Johnson said: “You’re going to be hearing a lot more in the course of the next couple of days as you can imagine about where we are with testing.

“You heard me say earlier on today that we’ve got the numbers up to I think 86,000-plus, but there is clearly a massive way to go.

“In principle, every key worker in this country should be able to get a test and we want that to happen, we’re massively ramping up testing.”

In a blog post on the Department of Health website on Thursday evening, Prof Newton, Public Health England’s director of health improvement and the UK’s testing strategy co-ordinator, wrote: “I know too well how, at times, it (the target) has felt impossible.

“By tomorrow night we will know if we have achieved that goal. To the surprise of many outside the programme we are already very close to that level of testing.

“This is an extraordinary achievement and a tribute to the sheer hard work of some amazing people.”

He went on: “As we move to the next phase the requirement for testing will change and we can now respond quickly with the testing capability needed.

“Our ultimate goal is that anyone who needs a test should have one.

“The UK entered this crisis with a world-leading pharmaceutical industry, but our diagnostic capabilities did not match.”

And he concluded: “Whatever the outcome tomorrow, I can assure you that the testing capacity we have built in the last few weeks is world-leading in its scale and sophistication, and gives us the flexibility we need to deal with rises and falls in demand.

“As the pandemic evolves, we will have the testing capacity to meet changing demand across the country. It is there to serve us all.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, said there would need to be between 110,00 and 120,000 tests a day for each NHS staff member to be tested once a week.

The Government has also come into criticism after repeatedly running out of its online testing kits, while its makeshift drive-through test centres have encountered delays and long queues.

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