The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set the government a new target of carrying out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day in England by the end of April.
Announcing a “five-pillar” testing plan, Hancock said the new target includes swab tests, which are already in use, and blood tests, which are yet to be launched.
The target was announced at yesterday’s daily conference, alongside five points designed to combine to deliver the new aim. These are:
- Swab tests in labs run by Public Health England
- Using commercial partners, such as universities and private businesses like Amazon and Boots, to boost swab testing
- Introducing antibody blood tests to check whether people have already had the virus
- Surveillance to determine the rate of infection and how it is spreading across the country
- Building a British diagnostics industry, with help from pharmaceutical giants
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Following Hancock’s announcement yesterday, Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, welcomed the new daily target, but said it was “not the 250,000 Boris Johnson promised”. Hancock said the government still hopes to hit the 250,000 target.
The BBC’s health correspondent, Nick Triggle, writes that “key questions remain”, pointing out that “the ability to hit the goal set… is out of the government’s hands”.
The Times says companies have “responded with scepticism” to Hancock’s promise “to create a British diagnostics industry from scratch in the coming weeks”. Keith Plumb, a chemical engineer on the board of trustees at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, told Sky News: “I wouldn’t say it was a completely empty promise but the task is very great – the proverbial ‘herculean task’.”
Anthony Costello, former director of the World Health Organisation and professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London, told The Guardian it is “good that they are galvanising the scientific community to help and it’s good that they are setting a target for 25,000 tests per day by the end of April”.
“Nonetheless, none of these strategies address the fundamental problem of stopping the spread of the virus,” Costello added.
Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, was also less than convinced, saying there is a “glimmer of hope” in Hancock’s plan, “but still precious little detail”.
However, the five pillar plan was not met with total skepticism. Mark Harris, professor of virology at the University of Leeds, said the five pillars “seems like the right approach”, while Charlie Swanton, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said the plan “all sounds very sensible”.
As of yesterday morning, the UK had 33,718 confirmed coronavirus patients, with 2,921 deaths so far.
The number of coronavirus infections has now passed one million globally, with 742,000 active cases, 209,000 recovered patients and 51,500 deaths.