Dominic Raab today insisted the UK government is ‘on track’ to hit Matt Hancock’s 100,000 daily coronavirus tests target by the end of the month despite the number of checks continuing to lag far below capacity.
Mr Hancock set the target at the start of April and ministers now have just four days to get to the six-figure testing number.
The latest published statistics show daily capacity for tests is at about 51,000 but the number actually carried out is still below 30,000, leaving the government with a massive task if it is to deliver on the Health Secretary’s goal.
But Mr Raab said this morning he expected there to be a ‘big surge’ in tests carried out this week as extra capacity ‘comes on tap’.
His comments came as key workers again struggled to secure a home testing kit after the government’s website stated there were ‘non available’ just twenty minutes after the latest batch of the checks was released today.
The test site launched on Friday in an effort get key workers who are isolating checked so they can go back to work.
But so far it has struggled with high demand, with tests running out in a matter of minutes.
Mr Hancock has pledged 5,000 tests a day would be made available for key workers through the online portal, in an effort to ‘get Britain back on her feet’. Key workers can also book slots at drive-through testing centres across the country.
Mr Hancock is under huge political pressure to deliver on the target and he said on Friday he does believe 100,000 tests will be carried out every day as of the end of this month ‘but nothing is guaranteed in life’.
That pressure has only grown after England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty told MPs that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had not signed off on the number.
Dominic Raab today insisted the UK is ‘on track’ to carry out 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of April
There are now 31 drive-through testing sites in operation across the UK. A soldier is pictured taking a swab from a key worker at a testing station in Chessington
Key workers continued to struggle to secure a home testing kit again today after the UK government website stated there were ‘none available’ just twenty minutes after the tests were released
Mr Raab was told during an appearance on Sky News this morning that just 28,700 tests were carried out in 24 hours according to the latest available data.
Asked if he believes the government will get to 100,000 by the end of the month, he said: ‘You are right about that in terms of the latest figures for tests carried out although it is a bit old now because we have come through the weekend, we have got new data.
‘Our capacity for carrying out tests is now at 51,000 per day so we have passed the halfway line to our target.
‘There are two things in the last week that really matter and you always get the exponential increase in a project like this in the last week as the capacity comes on tap.’
He continued: ‘First of all, with the NHS portal we are making sure people can access the tests either through home kits, through any one of the 31 drive-through centres and increasingly with mobile testing labs and the military are helping spread those across the country.
‘The second thing is we focused initially on NHS workers, then on care workers, we have now brought it to include all essential workers.
‘So I think we are going to see a big surge in the last week and we are on track to hit that target.’
On the booking website’s first day in operation some 46,000 people attempted to secure a test with available home checks and drive-through slots gone in a matter of minutes.
Regional drive-through tests are still available in England but have been booked out for the day in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Drive-through test sites are only accessible to key workers who have their own transport, with a car registration plate required to book a slot.
The 5,000 home tests released daily are only intended for those who have symptoms or who have a member of their household who has displayed symptoms of coronavirus.
Number 10 said the government is trusting that those applying for tests are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.
Concerns have been raised about the location of the drive-through sites with some workers facing lengthy journeys to get tested.
Iceland delivery driver Scott B. from Middleton, Greater Manchester, said that he had only been able to secure a drive-through test for him and his wife, who is ‘extremely high risk’ due to medical conditions, 51 miles from home at Doncaster Airport.
He tweeted: ‘Just been online to book a Corona test for me and my wife (my wife is classed as extremely high risk and I’m classed as a key worker ) , the nearest test centre is 51 miles away…..yeah nice one #coronavirustesting #Manchester #NHS.’
He said he was unable to take the time away from work to make the journey so will not be taking up the offer.
Another key worker from Manchester, Simon Crowther, was directed to a test site 100 miles away from his home in Penrith, Cumbria.
He tweeted: ‘Just booked my Covid19 key worker test. I live in Manchester. The test is in Penrith! Oh well at least the M6 should be clear.’
For key workers who are under 18 drive-through testing is only available in London or Belfast.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured in Downing Street on Friday, is facing increasing political pressure over his 100,000 testing target
Key worker Scott B. said that he had only been able to secure a drive-in test for him and his ‘extremely high risk’ wife 51 miles from his home
Simon Crowther was offered a drive-in test in Penrith, Cumbria, 100 miles from his home in Manchester
Will Vernon, who was trying to book a test on behalf of his 17-year-old sister who works at a supermarket said he had been unable to book any test
Will Vernon, who was trying to book a test on behalf of his 17-year-old sister who works at a supermarket said he had been unable to book a test.
Mr Vernon tweeted: ‘Turns out my 17 year old sister can not get a COVID-19 test despite being a key worker @mrjamesob @Number10press @MattHancock’.
Despite tests booking up so quickly, Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer at NHS Digital, said the website had been ‘improved’ before it re-opened on Saturday – adding that an ‘amazing team’ had worked ‘all night’ on it.
‘Home kits all booked by 8:15! I know it’s frustrating but we’re developing more lab, supply and logistics capacity every day,’ he said on Twitter.
‘If we’d waited until we had the full 100k, to launch, no one would have had a test today. More home kits again tomorrow, even more next week.’
Asked whether the government was confident people would be able to test themselves accurately with a kit sent to their homes, the spokesman added: ‘There are videos available to show people how to do this and people will be given clear instructions.’
Under the scheme, test results from the drive-through sites will be sent out by text within 48 hours, and within 72 hours of collection of the home delivery tests.