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Coronavirus: Government raises testing capacity target to 500,000 per day

The Government wants to expand testing capacity to 500,000 per day (PA)

3 min read

The Government has announced it wants to double the UK’s daily coronavirus testing capacity to 500,000 by the end of October.

It forms part of a “business plan” for the NHS Test and Trace programme, after new figures showed contact tracers failed to reach more than 20% of those who tested positive for Covid-19 last week.

Ministers have previously set ambitious targets to hit 100,000 by the end of April, and then 200,000 by the end of May.

On repotedly reaching the figure by 1 June, Health Secretary Matt Hancock described it as "an important milestone on our journey to control the spread of the virus".

But the head of the UK Statistics Authority accused the government of misleading the public over the numbers, by mixing up tests carried out with testing kits sent out by post. 

Sir David Norgrove wrote in a letter to Mr Hancock: “This distinction is too often elided during the presentation at the daily press conference, where the relevant figure may misleadingly be described simply as the number of tests carried out.

“There are no data on how many of the tests posted out are in fact then successfully completed.”

But two months after NHS Test and Trace launched, ministers said “informed by the best scientific advice” their ambition was to “double daily COVID-19 testing capacity to 500,000 by the end of October”, and to “test 150,000 at-risk people without symptoms per day by September”.

They also want to increase testing sites to more than 500 across the country by October, as well as finally launch “an app to support the NHS Test and Trace service”.

Baroness Dido Harding, who is charge of the programme, said: “Since we launched, over two million more people have been tested for coronavirus, and over 34,000 people have tested positive. 

“We have been able to contact over 200,000 people who might have unknowingly spread the virus otherwise.”

But the weekly figures show only 75.1% of close contacts were reached in the week ending July 22, down from 78.4% in the previous week, and well below the 90.8% figure reached for the week ending 3 June.

Since the launch of Test and Trace, 184,703 close contacts of people who have tested positive have been reached and asked to self-isolate, according to figures from the Department of Health and Social Care; 83% out of a total of 222,589 people identified.

And just over three-in-four people tested at a regional site or mobile testing unit last week received their result within 24 hours.

This is up on 71.5% for so-called "in-person" tests from the previous week, but down on 87.8% in the week to 8 July.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged that by the end of June all in-person test results would be back within a day.

Across the eight-week period of Test and Trace, just 3.2% of people using the home test kit method had received their result within 24 hours.

Almost half got it between 24 and 48 hours, but more than 10% had to wait more than three days to find out if they had the virus.

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