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Government considers relaxing strict ‘stay at home’ rules to allow small groups to meet

An easing of lockdown rules could allow people to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends.

Ministers are looking at whether to relax the strict ‘stay at home’ advice to let small groups of households ‘cluster’ together.

It would allow close family members to meet for meals, or enable friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other. 

In an idea reminiscent of BT’s ‘Friends and Families’ scheme, people would nominate a small list of those they want to be able to see, drawn from no more than one or two households.

Those involved would then be able to meet for meals and other social activities. But neither group would be allowed to mingle with others outside the ‘cluster’. 

Ministers are still grappling with how to enforce the new system and prevent a free-for-all that could allow the coronavirus epidemic to take hold again.

A Whitehall source said: ‘If we can find a way to allow a bit more flexibility without risking transmission of the disease running higher then we will do it.’ 

Belgium and Scotland are also looking at the idea. The move came as: 

  • Demand for new home testing kits saw a day’s supply of 5,000 run out in just two minutes as an online booking system was opened up to almost 11million key workers;
  • Boris Johnson prepared to return to Downing Street on Monday;
  • Motorists were set to be told to stay off roads unless their journey is essential after data showed a leap in traffic levels;
  • Councils agreed to reopen 340 parks and green spaces following an intervention by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick;
  • Official figures showed another 768 people in UK hospitals had died of coronavirus, taking the death toll to 19,506;
  • Ministers received scientific advice suggesting outdoor settings are ‘much safer’ than previously thought, raising hopes garden centres could reopen;
  • Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted contact tracing, which is now being ramped up, was abandoned last month partly because of a lack of resources;
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed drones will be used to deliver medical supplies to the Isle of Wight next week as part of a trial;
  • No10 distanced itself from Donald Trump after he suggested researchers should look at whether injecting disinfectant could help protect people from the disease.
Brits enjoyed the warm weather yesterday at London Fields, pictured, despite continued government guidance to stay at home

Brits enjoyed the warm weather yesterday at London Fields, pictured, despite continued government guidance to stay at home

Brits enjoyed the warm weather yesterday at London Fields, pictured, despite continued government guidance to stay at home

Crowds flocked to London's Hyde Park yesterday, pictured, to enjoy the sunshine despite the ongoing social distancing rules

Crowds flocked to London's Hyde Park yesterday, pictured, to enjoy the sunshine despite the ongoing social distancing rules

Crowds flocked to London’s Hyde Park yesterday, pictured, to enjoy the sunshine despite the ongoing social distancing rules

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured, yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured, yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, pictured, yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection.

Revealed: Dominic Cummings is part of secretive SAGE group advising the government on coronavirus – but scientists insist that political appointees were NEVER on panel before 

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is in the secretive scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus, it emerged last night.

Mr Cummings’ name was on a leaked list of attendees of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) meetings as far back as February.

The list, which was seen by The Guardian, showed Mr Cummings was at a SAGE meeting with 24 others on March 23, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the public to announce heightened lockdown measures.

The government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King told The Guardian political advisers were never on the equivalent committees of SAGE when he chaired them.

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, say other members of the group.

While both membership of SAGE and what is discussed during regular meetings has been kept a closely guarded secret, the news sheds uncertainty on the reliability of decisions that have been made.

Britain’s R0 IS below one: Chief medical officer reveals UK coronavirus sufferers are on average infecting less than one person in crucial milestone towards lifting lockdown 

Professor Chris Whitty has offered a chink of light out of the lockdown after revealing coronavirus infection rates have been wrestled down.

England’s chief medical officer said the reproduction number – or R0 – has been brought below 1, marking a critical achievement in the UK’s war on Covid-19.

It means coronavirus sufferers are on average infecting less than one person, meaning the disease will wind up as it can no longer spread.

Prof Whitty, who is part of the core team steering the government’s response and has become a staple in the briefings, suggested an easing of restrictions could happen relatively soon.

Speaking to MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee, Prof Whitty said: ‘The R that we have at the moment is somewhere between 0.5 and 1.

‘Let’s say for the sake of argument it is in the middle of that range, which I think is likely, that does give a little bit of scope for manoeuvre and ticking some things off while still keeping it below 1.

‘But there are lots of ifs, buts and ands to that.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday warned the government would not ease lockdown restrictions until ministers were certain they could prevent a deadly second wave of infection. 

He said this would not be possible until the number of cases was driven ‘right down’. Mr Hancock said he understood the ‘economic pressures’ the lockdown was causing, but warned they would be even worse if the UK suffered a second peak of the epidemic.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘I understand those voices who are saying we should move sooner but that is not something we are going to do.’

Mr Hancock said the lockdown could not be eased until ministers have the preliminary results of an Office for National Statistics study looking at how widespread the disease is in society. 

Downing Street said it was ‘conceivable’ this could be ready ahead of the May 7 review of the lockdown.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith yesterday said it was time for the government to ‘bite the bullet’ on the issue and set out a plan for easing the lockdown.

‘The UK government now needs to recognise that the time is now,’ he said.

Privately ministers are gloomy about the prospect of any significant easing of the lockdown on May 7, given the need to meet five tests that include a major reduction in the number of cases and security of supply of personal protective equipment.

One insider said: ‘I don’t think anyone thinks we are going to pass the five tests in the next week or two.’ 

It comes as Priti Patel  is today set to scold the rule-breakers ignoring the coronavirus lockdown after scenes of crowds pouring into public places sent alarm bells ringing through government.

The Home Secretary will underscore her warning to stay indoors with the threat of beefing up the police’s powers to enforce social distancing.

Unseasonably warm weather has caused many Britons to defy ministers’ instructions and head to parks, beaches and shopping centres in their droves.

A steady increase of traffic on the roads has also added to the growing unease in Downing Street that the country is becoming restless under the restrictions to everyday life.

Police chiefs have repeatedly begged the nation to obey the rules, while one force yesterday branded those flouting the lockdown as ‘selfish’.

However their message has been undermined by their own officers failing to observe social distancing during Thursday’s clap for carers on Westminster Bridge.

Mr Patel will this afternoon use the daily Downing Street press briefing to impress upon the public the seriousness of following the rules. 

A source close to the Home Secretary told the Daily Express: ‘We are seeing a worrying increase in people moving around.

‘Some industries which we did not advise to close are reopening, and we welcome that provided the social distancing rules are observed.

‘The vast majority of the public are still doing the right thing. However, transport use has ticked up in a way that suggests something more is going on and that has set off alarm bells.’

Ministers have come under pressure to publish a road map out of the lockdown, but have so far remained tight-lipped.

The lack of information from Whitehall has jarred with the approach taken in Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, who published a plan to ease restrictions after promising to treat the public ‘like grown ups’.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps praised the British people for largely following the rules.

He said: ‘The country has done incredibly well in adhering to social distancing and there is a danger as we go into yet another warm sunny weekend that people think that perhaps these graphs are showing that the peak is over.

‘It isn’t over, we’re riding perhaps, we hope, a downward trend but it is by no means, no means established yet. When people ask me when will the measures, the social distancing, the stay at home measures, be altered, my answer in some ways is that some of this lies in your own hands.

‘The more we adhere to it and are strict about the social distancing that is required, the faster that decision will be able to be made. But that decision will, of course, be made entirely on the advice of science and medical advice.’

Yet when the lockdown will end is still a focal point in the national conversation, and McDonald’s yesterday mooted re-opening.

The fast food giant, which is already operation again in coronavirus-stricken France, is in talks about opening its 1,249 restaurants across the UK, according to reports.

The burger chain could open for drive-thru and delivery orders as early as mid-May, say the Irish Farmers Journal.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s said: ‘Of course we are thinking about re-opening and having those conversations – but it’s unclear when that will be.’

It comes as figures reveal how Britain’s roads are becoming increasingly busy.

Data from sat nav makers TomTom shows how evening rush hour traffic in London reached 19 per cent for the last two days – the highest level it has been on a weekday since the lockdown came in.

Meanwhile, people have been pictured packed into busy open-air food markets and parks in London.

A woman wearing a face mask, pictured, cycles past Broadway Market in east London on Friday

A woman wearing a face mask, pictured, cycles past Broadway Market in east London on Friday

A woman wearing a face mask, pictured, cycles past Broadway Market in east London on Friday

 

Cabinet ministers were warned last year to stockpile PPE for a about a coronavirus pandemic, told it could come in three waves, kill 65,000 people and cost £2.35TRILLION 

By Jack Elsom for MailOnline 

  • The National Security Risk Assessment predicted tens of thousands of deaths and spiralling economic costs
  • Foreboding the current coronavirus crisis, it recommended stockpiling personal protective equipment 
  • The 600-page report will further fuel accusations the government was caught flat-footed by the virus

Ministers were last year warned of the grave consequences a future pandemic would unleash on the UK, a leaked Cabinet Office briefing had revealed. 

Tens of thousands of deaths, crippling economic costs and creaking public services were predicted in the 2019 National Security Risk Assessment which mapped out how an outbreak would likely unfold.

Almost foreboding the current coronavirus crisis, it recommended stockpiling personal protective equipment and drawing up plans to repatriate stranded Britons abroad. 

The government was also told to shore up the infrastructure needed to conduct mass contact tracing, in a revelation that will pour petrol on the simmering row over the lack of testing. 

The 600-page report, which was leaked to the Guardian, will further fuel accusations the government was caught flat-footed by the health emergency because of a lack of long-term planning.

Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance, one of the key figures steering the Covid-19 response, signed off the report last year and impressed the need for ‘robust’ plans to deal with a pandemic. 

The assessment said a relatively mild outbreak of ‘moderate virulence’ could lead to 65,600 deaths and could cost the UK £2.35trillion.    

It is not clear if Boris Johnson was prime minister when the report was written, or whether it was given to ministers serving the previous administration under Theresa May. 

Labour last night asked why the government had not acted on the advice of the report and demanded ministers explain themselves. 

The bombshell revelations came as Britain braced for its coronavirus death toll to hit the grim 20,000 milestone.  

As the country continues to weather the social and economic effects of the virus, the leaked report revealed: 

  • Half the population would exhibit symptoms of the virus, while even more would be infected yet be asymptomatic; 
  • The pandemic would unfold over three waves, with each wave lasting roughly 15 weeks;
  • Once the pandemic eventually passed, the hit to public services would take years to repair;
  • A huge public backlash would skewer a government who were deemed to have bungled the crisis response. 
Ministers were warned last year that the Government needed robust plans in place to deal with a potential pandemic virus, according to a leaked Cabinet Office briefing which was signed off by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured at Downing Street press briefing)

Ministers were warned last year that the Government needed robust plans in place to deal with a potential pandemic virus, according to a leaked Cabinet Office briefing which was signed off by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured at Downing Street press briefing)

Ministers were warned last year that the Government needed robust plans in place to deal with a potential pandemic virus, according to a leaked Cabinet Office briefing which was signed off by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (pictured at Downing Street press briefing)

The document, marked 'official, sensitive', wargamed potential scenarios the government would have to respond to, depending on the severity of the virus

The document, marked 'official, sensitive', wargamed potential scenarios the government would have to respond to, depending on the severity of the virus

The document, marked ‘official, sensitive’, wargamed potential scenarios the government would have to respond to, depending on the severity of the virus

Chief medical officer explains decision to abandon mass testing 

England’s chief medical officer has told how contact tracing was abandoned in the UK as coronavirus spread as the thinking was it ‘wasn’t likely to add a huge amount at that particular point, given the resources we had’.

Speaking to MPs on the Science and Technology Committee, Professor Chris Whitty said the UK tried to initially contain the virus, as did other countries, but when it moved to a global pandemic, the thinking changed. 

Prof Whitty explained how the nature of Covid-19, with some people not displaying symptoms, made containing the virus difficult and it was spreading at speed.

He said: ‘Initially, the policy was ‘let’s see if we can contain this’ and every country in the world took different versions of this but broadly that’s what we were doing.

‘Once this became clearly a global pandemic…it was really going to come in, coming from multiple sources…

‘At that point, a combination of where the epidemic was in the UK, where the epidemic was in Europe, and our own capacity meant that trying to do this, and deploy all our resources to try to do this with the ratio of people who would be followed up where you couldn’t say We’ll start off with where you come from geographically”…

‘We’re going to have to do this on syndrome, with a very non-specific syndrome…(and) this is a very different disease spreading at phenomenal speed, doubling every three to four days at this stage, my technical view and our technical view collectively was it really wasn’t likely to add a huge amount at that particular point, given the resources we had.’  

Labour’s Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said: ‘The revelations in this report are alarming and raise serious questions about the Government’s preparedness for a pandemic. 

‘Michael Gove must make a statement to Parliament on Monday explaining why its recommendations were not implemented.’

The document, marked ‘official, sensitive’, wargamed the potential risks posed by a pandemic and made recommendations to bolster Britain’s ability to fight it. 

An ‘influenza pandemic’, which is the closest to the coronavirus outbreak, was judged to pose a ‘very high’ risk. 

One of the recommendations made by Sir Patrick was to ensure a system of ‘disease surveillance and early detection’ – essentially the infrastructure needed for testing and contact tracing – was in place.

But a common criticism levelled at the government is that it downplayed the need for mass testing despite it proving a successful strategy in other countries to suppress the number of cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is now trying to ratchet up capacity with the target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.   

The NSRA also warned a pandemic would heap strain on vital public services which would be overwhelmed in the surge in cases. 

It said: ‘Critical infrastructure may also be affected during peak periods. There would be a huge surge in demand for health and social care services.

‘Besides very severe levels of stress on the NHS, the level of excess deaths would stretch capacity within organisations involved in the management of deaths.

‘This would be felt on a national scale, with local capacity likely to start to be overwhelmed during the peak of the pandemic.’ 

Transport services, energy suppliers, the food industry, education and the finance sector would all be disrupted, the report warned.  

NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment (medics wearing PPE at a coronavirus testing site)

NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment (medics wearing PPE at a coronavirus testing site)

NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment (medics wearing PPE at a coronavirus testing site)

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the report. A spokesman said: ‘We do not comment on leaks.’ 

According to the Guardian, the NSRA recommendations included stockpiling personal protective equipment, setting up advance purchase agreements for other essential kit and thrashing out a blueprint to manage a surge in deaths.

The need for plans to help British nationals abroad and repatriate them to the UK was also said to have been raised as a priority.

The NSRA looked at both the the risk of a viral flu pandemic and also a coronavirus outbreak – both Sars and Mers were coronaviruses – although this was considered less damaging.

The document included a series of ‘reasonable worst case scenarios’ for the spread of a flu-like viral pandemic.

It suggested it would play out in three waves – each expected to last 15 weeks and with the peak occurring in weeks six and seven of each wave.

Half of the population would be infected and experience symptoms of the disease during one or move of the waves.

While the actual numbers infected would be higher as some cases would be asymptomatic, a pandemic of ‘moderate virulence’ could lead to 65,600 deaths.

The document also spelled out the economic hits landed by the virus, and forecast costs could run to £2.35trillion.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already delved deep into the Treasury coffers to fund £320billion in rescue loans, with the costs of shuttered business in lockdown also likely to contract the economy.

Even after the pandemic was over, it said that it could take months or even years for health and social care services to recover.  

Revealed: Dominic Cummings is part of secretive SAGE group advising the government on coronavirus – but scientists insist that political appointees were NEVER on panel before

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings was at key meetings
  • The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is made up of experts
  • Mr Cummings, a political adviser, has been at meetings as far back as February
  • He was joined by a data scientist who worked on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign

By Emer Scully for Mailonline and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is in the secretive scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus, it emerged last night. 

Mr Cummings’ name was on a leaked list of attendees of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ (SAGE) meetings as far back as February. 

The list, which was seen by The Guardian, showed Mr Cummings was at a SAGE meeting with 24 others on March 23, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the public to announce heightened lockdown measures. 

The government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King told The Guardian political advisers were never on the equivalent committees of SAGE when he chaired them.

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group. 

Dominic Cummings' (pictured at Downing Street today) is part of the secretive SAGE group advising the government on its coronavirus response

Dominic Cummings' (pictured at Downing Street today) is part of the secretive SAGE group advising the government on its coronavirus response

Dominic Cummings’ (pictured at Downing Street today) is part of the secretive SAGE group advising the government on its coronavirus response

While both membership of SAGE and what is discussed during regular meetings has been kept a closely guarded secret, the news sheds uncertainty on the reliability of  decisions that have been made.  

Sir David said he was ‘shocked’ to discover there were political advisers on SAGE.

He added that it was ‘critically important’ scientific advice was free from political influence.  

Sir David Lidington, who served as Theresa May’s deputy, also suggested the practice was unusual, adding: ‘I’m not aware of any minister or special adviser, certainly not in Theresa May’s time, ever having been involved in the scientific advisory panels.’

In a letter to MPs this month, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, who chairs SAGE, said membership was kept secret on advice from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. 

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner (pictured on March 14), a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner (pictured on March 14), a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group

Mr Cummings was joined by Ben Warner (pictured on March 14), a data scientist who worked alongside him on the Vote Leave Brexit campaign in 2016, say other members of the group

‘This contributes towards safeguarding individual members’ personal security and protects them from lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice,’ he added.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, who co-chairs SAGE, has signalled a change in direction, telling MPs that he and Sir Patrick did not oppose publishing the membership.

Asked if revealing members’ names would boost public confidence in the scientific advice being given, he replied: ‘Yes.’

The revelation about Mr Cummings’s participation in the group will add to concerns surrounding decisions by SAGE, which has not published any minutes from its last 19 meetings on the pandemic.

Former members of SAGE were outraged a political fixer was on the committee, as others feared Mr Cummings could have twisted any advice offered during the meetings.

A Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Expert participants often vary for each meeting according to which expertise is required. 

Mr Johnson recorded a video message on Easter Sunday at Number 10 after release from the hospital (pictured)

Mr Johnson recorded a video message on Easter Sunday at Number 10 after release from the hospital (pictured)

Mr Johnson recorded a video message on Easter Sunday at Number 10 after release from the hospital (pictured) 

‘A number of representatives from government departments and No 10 attend also.’  

Downing Street has said Mr Cummings has attended meetings of SAGE but denied that he was a member. 

In a statement, a No 10 spokesman said: ‘It is not true that Mr Cummings or Dr Warner are “on” or members of Sage. 

‘Mr Cummings and Dr Warner have attended some Sage meetings and listen to some meetings now they are all virtual.

‘They do this in order to understand better the scientific debates concerning this emergency and also to understand better the limits of how science and data can help government decisions.

‘Occasionally they ask questions or offer help when scientists mention problems in Whitehall. 

‘Sage provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this.’

It comes just days after Sir Patrick Vallance, the Goverment’s chief scientific adviser and chairman of SAGE, revealed they will not publish key evidence until after the pandemic ends. 

SAGE’s advice to the Government has faced fresh scrutiny over a lack of widespread early testing and resistance to the idea of widespread facemask-use. 

In a letter to the Commons’ Science Committee, Sir Patrick said SAGE met 20 times before the start of April to discuss Covid-19.

‘Sage will commit to informing the Committee in advance when new evidence is due to be published,’ he said.

‘Once Sage stops convening on this emergency the minutes of relevant Sage meetings, supporting documents and the names of participants (with their permission) will be published.’

But MPs criticised the secrecy. Senior Liberal Democrat Layla Moran said: ‘It is incredibly disappointing to hear that the Sage evidence guiding the Government will remain secret.   

‘Only by publishing this evidence can ministers be scrutinised and held to account on their decisions. 

‘The tone and quality of the debate improved dramatically following the publication of the Imperial College modelling, on which decisions were being made.

‘I’m calling on the Government to think again.’

MPs last week called for the cast list of SAGE to be made public so that people can see exactly who ministers are getting their advice from.

The government has rejected the calls, with sources claiming the names cannot be published because of security concerns amid reports of some experts receiving death threats.

But former SAGE members have questioned that argument, insisting it is ‘perfectly reasonable’ for people to know who sits on the committee which Mr Johnson is relying on to guide the government’s response to the outbreak. 

However in his letter to committee chairman Greg Clark, Sir Patrick said: ‘The decision to not disclose SAGE membership for the time being is based upon advice from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and is in line with the standard procedure for COBR meetings, to which SAGE gives advice.

‘This contributes towards safeguarding individual members personal security and protects them from lobbying and other forms of unwanted influence which may hinder their ability to give impartial advice.  

‘Of course, we do not stop individuals from revealing that they have attended SAGE.’ 

Now coronavirus testing is in gridlock: Day one of new push to test millions sees 5,000 home kits run out by 6am and all 15,000 drive-through slots gone four hours later

  • Queues of cars were spotted at drive-through sites across the UK yesterday
  • Up to 11 million key workers and their households are now eligible for tests
  • Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday
  • It came as the latest UK hospital death toll reached 19,506, up by 768 yesterday

By Larisa Brownand Kumail Jafferand Victoria Allen for the Daily Mail

A new website where key workers can book coronavirus tests buckled under an unprecedented demand from those with symptoms yesterday.

A total of 5,000 home testing kits ran out by 6.02am – two minutes after they were made available – leading to an apology from the Department of Health.

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am.

Queues were spotted at drive-through sites across the country, with some arriving from neighbouring counties.

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week.

It came as the latest UK hospital death toll reached 19,506, up by 768 yesterday.

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am. Pictured: Cars queuing for a drive-through slot at Wembley in London

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am. Pictured: Cars queuing for a drive-through slot at Wembley in London

All 15,000 drive-through slots for Friday were taken by 10am. Pictured: Cars queuing for a drive-through slot at Wembley in London

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week. Pictured: A queue at the drive-through testing area in Milton Keynes

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week. Pictured: A queue at the drive-through testing area in Milton Keynes

No 10 said it would ramp up the testing and planned to increase its capacity for home testing to 18,000 a day by the end of next week. Pictured: A queue at the drive-through testing area in Milton Keynes

Up to 11 million key workers and their households are now eligible for tests if they have symptoms.

They include NHS and social care staff, police officers, teachers, social workers, undertakers, supermarket workers and those in food production.

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday, but only 23,560 tests were carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on Thursday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was confident the target would be reached, while admitting there were ‘no guarantees in life’.

At the Milton Keynes drive-through facility, key workers waited in queues for more than an hour.

Drivers were checked for their eligibility at one of two screening stations before being waved to the three tents for their test.

One woman was rejected, with testers holding up a sign claiming she did not meet the required criteria.

Teacher Vicky Egan, 38, from Northolt, west London, logged on to the Government website at 6am yesterday.

She was told that home tests were unavailable but booked a testing slot in Wembley for 3pm.

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Pictured: Malwina Lidak 34, from Hanwell visited a test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Pictured: Malwina Lidak 34, from Hanwell visited a test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Ministers are racing to hit their 100,000-a-day testing target by next Thursday. Pictured: Malwina Lidak 34, from Hanwell visited a test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Pictured: Soroush and his wife Elmira from Collingdale visited the test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Pictured: Soroush and his wife Elmira from Collingdale visited the test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

Pictured: Soroush and his wife Elmira from Collingdale visited the test centre at Wembley IKEA yesterday

‘I’ve had symptoms so it has been a big worry not knowing whether I have the virus,’ she said.

‘Thankfully I haven’t had to teach but I would have liked to have been tested before now.’

Key workers can register on the gov.uk website for an appointment at a drive-through centre or can request a home test kit to be delivered by Royal Mail and Amazon.

The slots become available daily.

No 10 also said the Government was trusting that those applying for tests were key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said ministers should have been prepared for the demand for tests.  

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