Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today.
Amid mounting criticism, the Cabinet minister insisted the government was ‘very concerned’ about the growing death toll and was doing ‘all that we can’ to ‘accelerate’ the numbers of tests.
But he declined to give a timescale for when all frontline NHS staff will get access to checks.
The comments came as Tony Blair warned that nearly everyone in the UK will need to be tested – perhaps two or three times each.
The UK’s coronavirus death toll rocketed by 260 to 1,019 yesterday, the biggest increase.
Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today
Mr Gove said Boris Johnson (pictured taking a meeting by video conference yesterday) could still lead the government response despite being infected
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts have been warning that mass checks are crucial for keeping the spread of the killer disease under control.
Countries like South Korea and China have been praised for their wide-scale testing regimes, which seem to have helped limit cases.
However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when the response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.
Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help.
Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000.
Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge programme, Mr Gove said he could confirm the number of tests per day had now hit 10,000..
‘We’re going to move to get that up to 25,000 a day and we’re doing all that we can to increase and to accelerate that, and I hope that we will be able to test as many frontline workers at the earliest possible stage,’ he said.
‘We’ve been working, as I say, with scientists, with the big players in providing medical supplies and drugs, like Boots, and others, in order to increase the number of tests that we have.’
Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan, a doctor who has been working in a hospital during the crisis, said she was ‘really disappointed’ that NHS staff were not currently being tested for the disease.
‘These are the people who are at the front line, these are people who need to know whether or not they have the virus or not,’ she told Sky News.
‘So, if they feel better, if they’re feeling poorly, they can return to work and keep working.’
Dr Allin-Khan said testing this group was important to ‘keep their families and communities safe’ – adding she would like to see mass testing rolled out as soon as possible.
‘It is absolutely urgent that NHS and care staff are tested and they have access to testing immediately,’ she said.
‘I’m not sure it’s entirely fair that senior politicians are having access to testing when frontline NHS staff, who are going in to work night shifts, day shifts, double shifts at the moment, can’t get the tests that they need.’
Asked about warnings the government could be forced to escalate ‘social distancing’ measures, Mr Gove said: ‘It’s always the case that Government stands ready, if necessary, to do what it takes in order to reduce the spread of infection.
The comments came as Tony Blair warned that nearly everyone in the UK will need to be tests – perhaps two or three times each
‘At the moment, all the evidence is that people are observing the rules, if you look at the number of people on public transport that has fallen, if you look at footfall in supermarkets and other stores that has fallen as well.’
Mr Gove added: ‘We keep things under review in order to ensure that if there are further steps they can be implemented.’
The minister said the Government is ‘very concerned’ by the increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus.
Asked about a steepening in the curve of deaths, the Cabinet Office minister said it was important to maintain the social distancing rules set put by the Government.
He said: ‘Well naturally, we’re very concerned and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those who’ve lost loved ones in the last few days.
‘And today’s figures remind us how important it is to maintain the social distancing rules that the Government have announced.
‘It’s absolutely critical that all of us stay at home, that we limit our trips away from home to just one a day for exercise, we limit the amount that we shop. If we do that, we can all play our part in helping the NHS.’
Mr Gove said Mr Johnson was ‘very firmly in charge’ of the Government following his positive diagnosis.
He said the Prime Minister had chaired a meeting on Friday from his study using ‘modern technology’.
‘He is very firmly in charge and later this afternoon the Prime Minister will also be hosting another meeting by video conference with the relevant ministers and officials,’ he said.
Pressed on who would take over should Mr Johnson’s condition deteriorate, Mr Gove said: ‘The designated deputy to the Prime Minister is the first Secretary of State, Dominic Raab.’