Public Health England’s Prof Yvonne Doyle today insisted nationwide Covid-19 testing is increasing – despite showing a sharp decline since Matt Hancock’s 100,000 a day deadline on April 30.
Addressing this evening’s Downing Street coronavirus press briefing, Prof Doyle said the number of tests have been increasing and this can explain the increase in the number of positive cases of Covid-19.
However, the slide she used during the briefing showed a dramatic decline in the number of tests since April 30, which was Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s deadline for reaching 100,000 tests a day.
Public Health England’s medical director, Prof Yvonne Doyle, pictured, said the number of tests performed in the United Kingdom had increased while showing a slide which illustrated how fewer tests have taken place every day since April 30
That figure is just 57 per cent of the 122,327 tests that Matt Hancock boasted had been carried out on Thursday to meet his pledge of 100,000 tests conducted per day by the end of April
Twitter users were suspicious of the message from today’s Downing Street briefing, having noticed a decline in the number of tests since April 30
This person also acknowledged the lack of tests and the increase in the number of infections
Opposition leaders have demanded an explanation for the decline in coronavirus testing, after the Government missed its 100,000-a-day target for the fourth day in a row.
Labour said that the news ‘does not inspire confidence’ in plans to begin easing the UK lockdown, which are expected to be announced on Sunday.
A total of 69,463 tests were conducted in the 24 hours to 9am on Wednesday, according to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
The testing total was 84,806 up to 9am on Tuesday, 85,186 up to 9am on Monday and 76,496 up to 9am on Sunday.
During her briefing, Prof Doyle said: ‘The important message is that we should all respect that this virus does transmit and we should stay at home and not to interact too much because people are still very vulnerable to getting this virus.
‘Now, we can see hear the daily tests and these have increased over time and this is up to May 6… but I’ll move on to the next slide which is of interest which is new cases.’
Commenting on the rise in Covid-19, she said: ‘We are doing more testing so we are going to find more new cases, and this is what we want to do. We want to find the positive cases and break transmission.’
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘One hundred thousand completed tests a day was pledged. Instead testing has gone down for the fourth day in a row.
‘Testing should be going up, not be on this downward trajectory. Ministers need to explain why they are failing to deliver the testing promised.’
Boris Johnson marked his return to the Commons by setting a new ambition for increasing test capacity to 200,000 a day by the end of the month.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed the prime minister on why current capacity had not been fully utilised since the end of April.
‘On April 30, the Government claimed success in meeting its 100,000 tests-a-day target. Since then, as the Prime Minister knows, the number has fallen back,’ he said.
‘On Monday, there were just 84,000 tests and that meant 24,000 available tests were not used.
‘What does the Prime Minister think was so special about April 30 that meant that testing that day was so high?’
Deputy leader Angela Rayner added that the ‘consistent downward trend’ was ‘really not good enough’.
‘It doesn’t inspire confidence to start easing lockdown,’ she wrote on Twitter.
It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed the UK is now a world leader in testing for Covid-19, though he conceded that capacity for checks had needed to be built up ‘almost from scratch’ since the start of the outbreak.
Mr Hancock admitted that it would have been ‘wonderful’ to have a diagnostics industry like Germany to tackle the coronavirus crisis, but insisted the UK has now caught up with the Germans in terms of testing.
Some 69,463 took place in the 24 hours to 9am today, according to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick
It came as Boris Johnson revealed a new ‘ambition’ to reach a capacity of 200,000 tests per day by the end of May
Downing Street later confirmed he was referring to capacity, rather than the total amount of tests actually carried out, and it could include new antibody tests if any are found to work accurately.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer savaged the Government over its fateful decision to scale down coronavirus testing in March, only for it later to be deemed vital to beating the pandemic.
He clashed with Mr Johnson over the pandemic as they faced each other for the first time at Prime Minister’s Question in the hushed, court room-like surroundings of the mostly-empty House of Commons.
The Prime Minister admitted contact tracing – where those suspected of having the virus are tracked down and tested – was stopped in mid-March as the transmission of coronavirus from individuals in the UK meant that ‘it exceeded out capacity’.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tore into Boris Johnson today over the Government’s fateful decision to scale down coronavirus testing in March, only for it later to be deemed vital to beating the pandemic
It came after the Government’s chief scientist conceded Britain should have done mass coronavirus testing on the public at the beginning of the crisis and carried it on.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to Downing Street, admitted yesterday that it ‘would have been beneficial’ to get a handle on testing faster.
Britain’s death toll climbed to the highest in Europe last night in one of the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two official measures revealed our figures had surpassed Italy’s which had previously been the worst-affected nation on the continent.
Facing Mr Johnson, Sir Keir said: ‘Contract tracing was happening in the UK but it was abandoned in mid-March. We were told at the time that this was because it was quote ‘not an appropriate mechanism’ but yesterday the deputy chief medical officer said it was to do with testing capacity.
‘So can the Prime Minister just clarify the position for us?’
The two party leaders clashed over the pandemic as they faced each other for the first time at Prime Minister’s Question in the hushed, court room-like surroundings of the mostly-empty House of Commons
Mr Johnson replied: ‘As I think is readily apparent Mr Speaker to everybody who studied the situation and I think as the scientists would confirm, the difficulty in mid-March was that the tracing capacity that we had, that had been useful as he rightly says in the containment phase of the epidemic, that capacity was no longer useful or relevant since the transmission from individuals within the UK meant that it exceeded our capacity then.
‘Now the value of the testing, tracking and tracing operation that we’re setting up now is that as we come out of the epidemic and as we get the new cases down, we will have a team that will genuinely be able to track and trace hundreds of thousands of people across the country and thereby to drive down the epidemic.’
Mr Johnson was the latest minister to admit the UK could not handle enough testing at the start of the pandemic.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Security Minister James Brokenshire both made similar confessions in interviews today.
The admissions sparked criticism over how testing was handled.
Senior Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said: ‘The Government has admitted what we all knew already: testing did not begin quickly enough.
‘Our country has paid a devastating price for this, and in the wake of the crisis we need an inquiry to examine the delays to testing, as well the ongoing lack of PPE for frontline workers.’
Asked whether, had there been the capacity, track-and-tracing should have continued, Mr Brokenshire told the BBC’s Today programme: ‘Would there have been benefit in having that extra capacity, as Patrick Vallance highlighted yesterday? Yes.
‘The challenge that we had is that we have some fantastic laboratories, some fantastic expertise, but it has been the capacity constraints that we have had, and therefore how that posed challenges.’
Mr Hancock this morning said it would have been good if the UK had had the diagnostic testing capability enjoyed by Germany, but insisted the UK had caught up.
He said: ‘The Germans started with this enormous diagnostics industry. But if you look at other countries around the world we are miles ahead on testing and we are now one of the world leaders.
‘It is true that Germany has a very high capacity – about the same as ours. So we have basically caught up with Germany that started with this massive capability. We are miles ahead of South Korea now. Absolutely.’
The UK Government has only allowed members of the public to get coronavirus tests from last week, and there are still restrictions on who is eligible, even if they have symptoms (Pictured: A woman has a nasal swab taken at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge)
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, admitted it ‘would have been beneficial’ for the UK to have testing ramped up weeks earlier than it did
Government data last night showed there had been 29,427 deaths in hospitals, care homes and the community – a rise of 693 in one day.
But a second set of figures from the Office for National Statistics put the death toll at 32,375 – once numbers from Scotland and Northern Ireland had been included – taking the UK above Italy.
When the first cases of the coronavirus appeared in the UK every person suspected of having it was being tested and any positive cases would be quarantined in a specialist disease hospital.
As the infection spread, however, the Government gave up trying to test everyone.
On March 12, officials announced testing would be limited to patients and staff in hospitals so that authorities could focus on preparing hospitals for disaster.
That policy continued for six weeks until April 28, when testing was expanded to key workers and over-65s with symptoms, and later to those without signs of the illness.
Speaking to MPs in Parliament’s Health Select Committee yesterday, Sir Patrick said: ‘I think that probably we, in the early phases – and I’ve said this before – I think if we’d managed to ramp testing capacity quicker it would have been beneficial.
‘For all sorts of reasons that didn’t happen.’
One former World Health Organization director, commenting on the lack of focus on testing, said: ‘This should not have happened’.
A former director at the WHO and now academic at University College London, Professor Anthony Costello, said the UK should never have let testing slip.
He said on Twitter: ‘On March 12 we stopped all community testing at a time when there were less than 10 deaths and only 500 confirmed cases countrywide.
‘Most local authorities had tiny numbers of cases. Before we stopped we were only doing 1,500 tests per day. This should not have happened.
‘And contact tracing could have easily continued with local authority public health teams, GPs, environmental health officers and trained volunteers. Except maybe in London and W Midlands. This would have reduced spread.’
Sir David King, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, agreed that testing could have spared the UK some of the devastation it has gone through.
Asked whether he thought testing could have cut the death toll he told the BBC: ‘I don’t think there’s any might about it, of course it would.’
In his evidence yesterday, Sir Patrick added: ‘I think it’s clear you need lots of testing for this but, to echo what Jenny Harries has said, it’s completely wrong to think of testing as the answer.
‘It’s just part of the system that you need to get right. The entire system needs to work properly.’
Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, has explained that the UK stopped its policy of testing everyone so officials could focus on preparing the NHS.
When officials realised Britain was on the cusp of a full-blown epidemic the Government scrambled to try and prepare the already-crumbling NHS for patients.
Videos and reports emerging from Italy, which battled what is still perceived as the worst outbreak in the world, showed patients in corridors and hospitals overwhelmed with the sick and dying.
Afraid Britain faced the same fate, the Government rushed to cancel all non-urgent operations, empty hospital wards and buy as many ventilators as it could get its hands on.
In the process, testing, tracking and tracing of people infected with the virus in the community fell by the wayside.
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said on March 12: ‘It is no longer necessary for us to identify every case’.
Throughout March, the Government never tested more than 9,000 people in a day, and the number hovered below 15,000 until mid-April.
During that time, hundreds of thousands of people – potentially millions – are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus and almost 18,000 people had died by the first time the Government managed to test 15,000 in a day.
The World Health Organization, shortly after Professor Whitty’s announcement, had urged countries to ‘test, test, test’.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director-general, said not doing so would be like ‘trying to fight a fire blindfolded’.