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Thu, 13 August 2020

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Matt Hancock defends ‘ambitious’ 100,000 a day coronavirus testing target as he expands checks to police and council staff

Matt Hancock defends ‘ambitious’ 100,000 a day coronavirus testing target as he expands checks to police and council staff

Matt Hancock wants 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.

4 min read

Matt Hancock has defended his “ambitious” 100,000 a day coronavirus testing target, as he vowed that more frontline public sector workers would now be able to get themselves checked for the disease.

The Health Secretary said his pledge to boost capacity to six figures by the end of April remained in force - despite the latest figures showing that barely 19,000 tests a day are taking place.

And he promised that police officers, fire service, prison, council and prison staff would be able to access testing if needed from today.

Speaking at the start of April, the Health Secretary promised “tests for everyone who needs them”, and said he was “determined” to see 100,000 tests per day carried out by the end of the month.

Testing is seen as a key part of the Government’s strategy for evenutally lifting Britain’s nationwide Covid-19 lockdown - with two types of checks needed: both to find those who currently have the illness and those who have already had it it therefore have some immunity.

Pressed on why he had waited weeks to launch the target, Mr Hancock told committee chair Jeremy Hunt: "I don’t think if we’d announced the 100,000 target a couple of weeks earlier as you suggest we’d be in any different position now, because we were continuing the drive to increase testing all along.

“The challenge is that the increase, the radical increase, in the amount of testing over the last two months, from 2,000-a-day at the start of March to 10,000 tests a day at the end of March and now with the ambitious goal I’ve set of over 100,000 by the end of this month - that ramp-up has been ongoing throughout.

“I set a public target in part because people were asking how fast are we going to get there and because it also managed to galvanise the non-diagnostics pharmaceutical industry here... The overall project to ramp up testing has been going since day one.”

"It is simply stunning that the party of the grocer’s daughter has forgotten these people working so hard to keep us all safe" - Matt Kilcoyne, Adam Smith Institute

The Health Secretary revealed that 18,665 tests were carried out in the 24 hours up to Thursday afternoon - and said he expected to return to an abandoned strategy of testing “everybody with symptoms... relatively soon” as capacity is increased.

And he announced: “I can today expand the eligibility for testing to the police, the fire service, prison staff, critical local authority staff, the judiciary and DWP staff who need it. And we’re able to do that because of the scale-up of testing.”

But Mr Hancock’s push to expand testing to more frontline public sector staff has already prompted warnings that key workers in the private sector are being left behind.

Matt Kilcoyne, deputy director of the free-market Adam Smith Institute think tank, told PoliticsHome: "We all understand the idea of looking after your own, but right now we’re all relying on the Government to look after the health of every single one of us.”

He added: “Putting public sector employees at the front of the testing queue and forgetting the army of delivery workers, shop-keepers and countless others in the private sector is a dereliction of duty. 

“It shows a callous disregard for those often the most at risk, coming into contact with the most people, and having to leave their homes to work for below average wages. It is simply stunning that the party of the grocer’s daughter has forgotten these people working so hard to keep us all safe.”

COMMUNITY TESTING ‘PART OF THE STRATEGY’

The UK has meanwhile faced criticism in some quarters for not rolling out testing en-masse to the wider population, with Mr Hunt pointing out that Germany, which has seen far fewer deaths despite a larger population, had “never stopped community testing”.

But Mr Hancock said: “It is part of the strategy. We will be introducing it when we can. It wasn’t possible when we had small numbers of tests, but as we have expanding tests so it will be possible."

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