Matt Hancock claimed there has been a lack of testing over the last couple of days because there hasn’t been “enough demand” in today’s press briefing.
The health secretary, who has come under fire for not providing frontline workers with enough protection, appeared to suggest coronavirus tests are going unused in the UK every day because there aren’t enough people to test.
Fewer than 15,000 coronavirus tests were carried out on Easter Monday and 16,000 on Tuesday – despite the fact the UK now has the capacity to test nearly 20,000 samples a day.
Hancock said: “The reason that the figures on the number of tests done have been flat over the last couple of days has been because of not enough demand, rather than not enough capacity.”
According to official figures published by the government, 14,982 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in England, Scotland and Wales in the 24 hours up to 9am on Tuesday, with a few hundred more in Northern Ireland, where figures are recorded differently.
But the prime minister’s official spokesperson told journalists on Wednesday that the UK had the capacity to test 4,000 more samples than this each day.
“Testing capacity is increasing all of the time, both in terms of drive-through sites and in NHS labs,” he said. “Testing capacity in NHS and Public Health England laboratories is now at 19,807.”
Yet thousands of key workers – including medics – have been stuck in quarantine and unable to work without the all-clear.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has warned that almost 3,000 fire and rescue staff are currently in self-isolation because of a “fiasco” in testing, arguing that only a “fraction” of those unable to work because of their symptoms are likely to have the virus.
The first testing of care home workers was only carried out this weekend too, with as few as 500 tests completed according to reports.
The director of a group of care homes where 11 residents have died after contracting Covid-19 says she thinks the sector has been forgotten during a “horrendous” last three weeks.
Nicola Richards said: “I just don’t think we’ve had the support. We’ve not been prepared for this.
“There has been a lot of emphasis on the NHS, and rightly so. But, ultimately we’re an integral part of the healthcare system too.
“But we’ve been lacking PPE, lacking the testing kit. We should have had some support.”
Close relatives to be allowed to say goodbye to Covid-19 victims
During today’s briefing Hancock also announced that close relatives will be able to say goodbye to their loved ones as they die from coronavirus.
Mr Hancock said that “wherever possible” people will be given the “chance to say goodbye” to loved ones dying with Covid-19, after reports of the elderly dying alone in care homes and some hospitals banning all visitors.
He said “wanting to be with someone you love at the end of their life is one of the deepest human instincts”, and said as a father himself he wept at reports of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton, south London, dying without a parent at his bedside.
“I’m pleased to say that working with Public Health England, the care sector and many others, we are introducing new procedures so we can limit the risk of infection while wherever possible giving people’s closest loved ones the chance to say goodbye.”