The Government will hit its 100,000-a-day coronavirus testing target “or be very close”, a minister has said.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he thinks Government testing for Covid-19 will have been a “success” even if the target of 100,000 tests is not met.
The deadline for hitting the target passed on Thursday but a time lag in reporting results means it will not be known until Friday whether the target was met.
It comes as information on the official Government website about how the number of tests for Covid-19 are counted appears to have changed in the days before its testing deadline.
The Government should focus on making sure these tests are administered effectively rather than bending the rules to hit their own arbitrary target https://t.co/NvpHiTuAKo— Justin Madders MP (@justinmadders) May 1, 2020
The data now includes tests sent to people’s homes.
In the days prior to April 28, there was no reference to how tests were counted.
But on April 28, the guidance said the count included: “(i) test conducted with a result and (ii) test posted to an individual at home.”
On April 30, the page again stated that the number of tests includes “tests processed through our labs (and) tests sent to individuals at home or to satellite testing locations”.
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “We want the Government’s test, isolate and trace strategy to succeed and welcomed expanding who was eligible to get a test, but counting a test put in the post is not the same as a conducted test and getting results.
“Ministers should focus on making sure these tests are administered effectively rather than moving the goalposts to hit their own arbitrary target.
“Government should urgently clarify its position at tonight’s press conference.”
The latest testing figures show that in the 24 hours to 9am on Thursday, 81,611 tests were carried out against a capacity of more than 86,500.
Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “I think we will either have met it or be very close, and in that sense the target will have succeeded because it will have galvanised people across government, in the private sector and across the country.”
Regarding face masks and face coverings, the minister said the evidence showed they offer “modest benefits” but they might “be a way of giving us all more confidence in going about our business in a safe way”.
Following an indication from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday that the guidance on face masks will change, Mr Jenrick added that a mask “does not make a huge difference but it might make some”, saying they may help people feel safer going to work.
It comes as a BBC poll of 1,000 people found that more than 60% would be uncomfortable about going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport should ministers decide to relax the lockdown.
More than 40% would still be reluctant to go shopping or send their children to school and more than 30% would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.
The poll came as:
– The Prime Minister is not expected to announce any changes to the lockdown measures before Thursday, the deadline to renew restrictions.
– Ryanair said up to 3,000 jobs could be lost at the airline, while unpaid leave and pay cuts of up to 20% are also proposed.
– Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19, said it would be “perfectly reasonable” for the UK to start easing the lockdown before a full contact tracing system is up and running.
– More than one million people globally have recovered from Covid-19 across the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre in the US.
– US President Donald Trump claimed he had seen evidence to support the theory that the virus originated in an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s outbreak.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said Mr Hancock deserves praise if he manages to hit the 100,000 a day testing target.
He told the Today programme: “It’s an enormous achievement to get us from doing around 10,000 tests a day to 100,000, give or take, in four weeks.
“It’s an absolutely huge transformation of our testing capacity and Matt Hancock deserves enormous credit.
“The 100,000 is in some ways an arbitrary number but setting a target like that is how you get things done in a big bureaucracy like the NHS . It galvanises the system and it looks like that’s what he’s done.”
Mr Hunt said the UK should follow in the steps of South Korea, which has a mass testing programme and a focus on contact tracing.
The MP, who chairs the Health and Social Care Committee, said: “The first thing they do, which we now will be able to do at the right moment, is be able to test not just for coronavirus cases in hospitals and care homes, but actually when people start going back to work to test them in the community.
“That has meant that they are able to stop the virus in its tracks, so it’s much more targeted.
“It’s locking down the people who have the virus or might have the virus, but not locking down the whole economy.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye has described social distancing in airports as “impossible”.
He told the PA news agency: “Social distancing does not work in any form of public transport, let alone aviation.
“The constraint is not about how many people you can fit on a plane, it will be how many people you can get through an airport safely.
“If you’ve ever been on holiday from Gatwick, you cannot imagine going through there and socially distancing in the summer.
“It’s just physically impossible to socially distance with any volume of passengers in an airport. The same applies with trains and Tube stations
“So we need a better solution, which means that in a few months’ time, when the disease is under control and with a low risk of infection, we can make it as low risk as possible for people to fly.”