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Matt Hancock announces expansion of coronavirus testing regime

Matt Hancock today announced coronavirus testing eligibility is being extended to include all over-65s and workers who cannot work from home – but only if they have symptoms. 

All asymptomatic staff and patients at hospitals and care homes will also now be able to get checked. 

The Health Secretary said opening up the testing regime to more people has been made possible by a dramatic increase in capacity. 

The UK now has the ability to test more than 73,000 people every day with the government claiming it is ‘on track’ to hit Mr Hancock’s target of getting to 100,000 daily checks by the end of tomorrow.

The offer of tests for symptomatic over-65s and to workers who have to leave the house to do their job will also apply to people living in those households.

It comes after Mr Hancock made a £100 bet that he will hit his six-figure testing target on time despite the fact the number of tests being carried out continues to lag far below capacity. 

The latest statistics showed just 37,024 tests were carried out in the UK in the 24 hours to 9am yesterday, illustrating just how far ministers need to go to hit the 100,000 goal by close of play on Thursday. 

Earlier Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told MPs the government will publish the data relating to the testing deadline on Saturday because of of the time it takes to turn around results of home tests that were only made available online this week.

England, Scotland and Wales today announced a further 586 coronavirus deaths, with the official death toll now standing at 21,678 in Britain. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this evening announced a massive expansion of the UK's coronavirus testing regime

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this evening announced a massive expansion of the UK's coronavirus testing regime

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this evening announced a massive expansion of the UK’s coronavirus testing regime

The latest Downing Street statistics show the number of new coronavirus cases has fallen for the fourth day in a row

The latest Downing Street statistics show the number of new coronavirus cases has fallen for the fourth day in a row

The latest Downing Street statistics show the number of new coronavirus cases has fallen for the fourth day in a row

The UK's virus death rate continues to follow broadly the same trajectory as its European neighbours in France and Spain

The UK's virus death rate continues to follow broadly the same trajectory as its European neighbours in France and Spain

The UK’s virus death rate continues to follow broadly the same trajectory as its European neighbours in France and Spain

Meanwhile, the latest numbers today showed there had been a further 586 deaths in UK hospitals

Meanwhile, the latest numbers today showed there had been a further 586 deaths in UK hospitals

Meanwhile, the latest numbers today showed there had been a further 586 deaths in UK hospitals 

Access to coronavirus tests was initially restricted to patients and NHS staff. It was then rolled out to include the social care sector before being opened up to all key workers. 

But speaking at the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference Mr Hancock said: ‘Today, because we have been able to expand capacity I can expand access further.

‘Building on successful pilots we will be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England and to patients and staff in the NHS.

‘This will mean that anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not.

‘I am determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable and we now have the capacity to go further still.

‘So from now we are making testing available to all over-65s and their households with symptoms and to all workers who would have to leave home in order to go to work and members of their households, again who have symptoms.

‘So from construction workers to emergency plumbers, from research scientists to those in manufacturing, the expansion of access to testing will protect the most vulnerable and help keep people safe and it is possible because we have expanded capacity for testing thus far.’

Mr Hancock told the briefing that the government is ‘on track’ to hit his 100,000 daily tests target with capacity now at 73,400.

The number of drive-through testing sites now stands at 41 with 48 due to be operational by the end of this week. 

Home testing is being expanded from 5,000 a day last Friday to 25,000 a day by the end of the week. 

Mobile testing facilities staffed by army personnel are also being increased. 

‘At the weekend, 17 mobile testing units manned by the army were operational,’ Mr Hancock said.  

‘By the end of the week we plan to have over 70 deployed with trained crews right across the country.

‘All of this has led to an increase in daily testing capacity which now stands at 73,400. This has allowed us to progressively expand access to testing.’ 

Home-testing kits for critical workers, which can be booked on an online portal on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, ran out this morning for the fifth day in a row.

Some 10,000 tests were scooped up within hours after they were made available at 8am this morning, including 7,000 in the first hour. None were left by 11.50am.

Appearing on LBC to discuss Britain’s testing operation with presenter Nick Ferrari, Mr Hancock was asked by the host if he would agree to a wager.

The presenter said: ‘Are you prepared to have a £100 wager, and I will never be happier to write a cheque for £100, when you deliver that 100,000 tests on May the first and the money goes to NHS charities. Are you up for the bet, Mr Hancock?’

Mr Hancock tried to swerve, saying: I’ve got enough riding on this already, Nick.’

But eventually he agreed, insisting the money, if he won, will go to the Hospices UK charity.

Matt Hancock has agreed to £100 bet with LBC presenter Nick Ferrari that the UK will meet its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month - despite not even being halfway yet. Pictured, the line shows how many people have been tested per day in the UK

Matt Hancock has agreed to £100 bet with LBC presenter Nick Ferrari that the UK will meet its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month - despite not even being halfway yet. Pictured, the line shows how many people have been tested per day in the UK

Matt Hancock has agreed to £100 bet with LBC presenter Nick Ferrari that the UK will meet its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of the month – despite not even being halfway yet. Pictured, the line shows how many people have been tested per day in the UK

22,000 of the 26,000 available drive-through testing site appointments had been booked by key workers within an hour of availability this morning, No 10 said. Pictured, a drive-in testing facility being operated by the armed forces at the Chessington World of Adventures today

22,000 of the 26,000 available drive-through testing site appointments had been booked by key workers within an hour of availability this morning, No 10 said. Pictured, a drive-in testing facility being operated by the armed forces at the Chessington World of Adventures today

22,000 of the 26,000 available drive-through testing site appointments had been booked by key workers within an hour of availability this morning, No 10 said. Pictured, a drive-in testing facility being operated by the armed forces at the Chessington World of Adventures today

Asked if it was possible to meet the target of 100,000 daily tests by the end of April, Mr Hancock said it was a ‘big task’.

He told Mr Ferrari: ‘The plan was always to have a big ramp-up at the end of April because I spent April putting in place the systems to take this from an individual lab-by-lab process hand-done to an essentially automated process with an automatic application online. 

‘Since that went live at the end of last week we have seen a very rapid rise.

‘We’re still on track but it’s a big big task. There’s a lot of things that we need to get right so there’s no guarantees in this life but we still are on track.’ 

He spoke before Mr Gove made a statement on coronavirus in the House of Commons. Asked about the testing target and when the results would be published, he said: ‘There has been some confusion over capacity and tests administered.

‘The target is tests administered and the figure for the tests administered on Thursday, which is the day that we have set for the target, will be published on Saturday.’

The 100,000 tests per days covers the government’s five pillars of testing, which includes patients in hospital, NHS and key workers and their household members. 

Testing was opened up to more than 10million key workers and their households  last week.

But as of 11.50am today home testing kits for England were listed as ‘unavailable’ on the gov.uk/coronavirus website. 

Some 10,000 kits were put onto the system – double that of previous days – which were all taken within hours. 

More than 7,000 were ordered in the first hour of availability from 8am, Downing Street said, and 22,000 of the 26,000 available drive-through testing site appointments had also been booked.

Yesterday 5,000 home kits ran out 65 minutes after booking slots reopened, which was an improvement on the two minutes when the scheme launched on Friday. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, said yesterday that the online booking system ‘offered no practical help’ to healthcare workers in a blow to the Government’s aim to improve accessibility.

Mr Hancock agreed a £100 bet with LBC host Nick Ferrari (pictured), promising to give the money to Hospice UK if the target is met by May 1

Mr Hancock agreed a £100 bet with LBC host Nick Ferrari (pictured), promising to give the money to Hospice UK if the target is met by May 1

Home testing kits for NHS and critical workers have run out today after 10,000 were made available at 8am this morning. Test site appointments have run out in Wales

Home testing kits for NHS and critical workers have run out today after 10,000 were made available at 8am this morning. Test site appointments have run out in Wales

Home testing kits for NHS and critical workers have run out today after 10,000 were made available at 8am this morning. Test site appointments have run out in Wales

But Mr Hancock insists the task for 100,000 tests a day is 'on track' despite scepticism from the outset. He is pictured on LBC

But Mr Hancock insists the task for 100,000 tests a day is 'on track' despite scepticism from the outset. He is pictured on LBC

But Mr Hancock insists the task for 100,000 tests a day is ‘on track’ despite scepticism from the outset. He is pictured on LBC

He said the current testing capacity is ‘well, well short’ of the number of healthcare staff who are currently self-isolating.

‘Our estimate is that there are about 90,000 health and care staff self-isolating based upon the government figures of absence rates,’ he said.

‘If the government wants healthcare workers to have access to the test, it has to be in the context or providing adequate capacity, not a “first come first served” and closing within an hour.’

There are now 17 operational military-run mobile testing sites: Torquay, Hereford, Boston, Salisbury, Bishop Auckland, Barnet, Northampton, Grimsby, Skegness, Blackpool, Macclesfield, Ramsgate, Harwich, Barnsley, Grantham and Kendal.

The government hopes to have 96 mobile testing facilities by the start of May. 

Timeline of the virus testing website launch 

FRIDAY

  • 6am: Government’s new coronavirus testing website launches
  • 6.02am: Stock of 5,000 home kits are all ordered in just two minutes
  • 10am: 15,000 drive-through slots are all booked as new registrations close

 SATURDAY

  • 8am: More tests released on website
  • 8.15am: All 5,000 home kits are  taken
  • 10am: No more drive-through tests available to book in England  

SUNDAY

  • 8am: More tests are launched 
  • 10am: Home testing kits are again listed as ‘unavailable’

MONDAY 

  • 8am: Availability of home and drive-through tests goes live again 
  • 9.05am: Home tests no longer available
  • 12pm: Only drive-through tests in England and Scotland are left 

TUESDAY

  •  8am: 10,000 home tests are made available on the website
  • 9am: More than 7,000 were ordered in the first hour of availability, Downing Street said
  • By 8am 22,000 of the 26,000 available drive-through testing site appointments had also been booked, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said yesterday it will be ‘difficult to know’ if the coronavirus testing target had been hit by Friday due to a lag in getting results back.

‘For example, home testing kits can take up to 72 hours to get the results for, and therefore show up in the numbers’, the spokesperson said.

However, it is unclear why. Up until now, the daily test figure reported by the Department of Health and Social Care has been from 24 hours prior. 

For example, on Monday it reported that 37,024 tests were ‘on 26 April’ – the day before.

Since the outbreak began, 719,910 tests have been carried out in total, around 200,000 of which were repeat tests.

Of 569,768 people who have been tested, 157,149 had a positive result as of 5pm on April 26 and 21,000 have died.  

But the figure is thought to be more like 32,600 – 55 per cent higher than the daily Government statistics let on.

Weekly data released by the Office for National Statistics today showed that deaths outside of hospitals pushed England and Wales’s death toll to 22,351 for April 17, a significant rise on the 14,451 announced on that date by the Department of Health.

If the same increase – 54.6 per cent – were applied to the total death toll confirmed yesterday (21,092) it could mean the real number of victims is 32,608.  

The latest figures from the National Records of Scotland, published last week, showed 1,616 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to April 19. 

And the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, also published last week, showed 276 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Northern Ireland up to April 22. 

Updated figures from the National Records of Scotland are due to be published tomorrow, and from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency on Friday. 

Courtesy DAILY MAIL

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