Govt accused of overstating scale of coronavirus testing
March 31 2020 12:14 AM
Simon Stevens
NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens stands with NHS staff during a visit to the ExCel London in Newham, London, yesterday. The ExCel centre has been converted into the temporary NHS Nightingale Hospital, comprising two wards, each capable of accommodating 2,000 people.


Ministers have been accused of overstating the scale of coronavirus testing in the UK as figures for the number of daily tests fell to 8,278 on Saturday – far short of the 10,000 target it was meant to have met last week.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, claimed over the weekend that the 10,000 target had been reached.
However, it turned out only 9,114 tests had been carried out on around 6,900 people on Friday – falling to 8,278 tests on 4,908 patients on Saturday.
The figures are well below the 10,000 daily tests promised by the government on March 11 and cast doubt on whether it would hit the next target of 25,000 daily tests within a fortnight.
It shows the UK is lagging behind other countries such as Germany, which is testing 70,000 daily, despite the World Health Organisation’s advice for countries to “test, test, test”.
Downing Street appeared to blame Public Health England (PHE) for the discrepancy, saying Gove had been relying on information given to him by the health experts.
The 10,000 figure was an accurate reflection of current testing capacity, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.
Capacity for testing currently stands at 10,949 a day, according to PHE, raising questions about why more tests are not being done.
Asked why the UK had a target of 25,000 daily tests while Germany was working on around 70,000 a day, the spokesman said there were difficulties in “getting all the equipment they need to conduct these tests at a time when everybody in the world wants them”.
Concern is rising about the UK’s failure to quickly increase its testing capacity, which experts say will be key to easing the lockdown.
It is almost three weeks since the government promised to reach the 10,000 target, and 12 days since it said it was working to increase testing in hospitals to 25,000 a day.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, questioned why Gove had claimed the UK had met its target, and called for more effort to be put into testing.
“Experts continue to call for the UK to significantly ramp up testing. When Germany is testing around 500,000 people a week, many are asking why we are still not even hitting the 10,000 a day promised on March 11,” he said.

Last updated: March 31 2020 12:30 AM

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