The UK will test 100,000 people per day for coronavirus by the end of this month, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Thursday.
“That is the goal and I am determined we will get there,” said Hancock, who had been self-isolating for seven days with coronavirus.
But the new pledge came before the UK has even met its current target of 25,000 tests per day.
Hancock set out the government’s order of priority for testing people for coronavirus: Patients first, expanding to NHS (National Health Service) staff and their families, critical key workers third and “over time we will expand to community.”
He said the government intends to reach the target through a five-pillar testing strategy:
1. Swab testing in Public Health England labs and within the NHS in hospitals.
2. Partnerships with universities, research institutes and companies like Amazon and Boots to build new labs and testing sites across the country, to be initially used solely for frontline NHS staff and their families.
3. Blood tests designed to tell if people have had the virus and are now immune. These could potentially be done at home with a finger prick, Hancock said. The government is currently working with nine companies.
4. Surveys to find out what proportion of the population already had the virus, using an antibody test. There is capacity for 3,500 of these tests a week.
5. Pharmaceutical giants will assist in building a British diagnostics industry at scale.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to boost the country’s coronavirus testing efforts after facing a barrage of criticism for screening fewer people than other nations at a similar stage of the epidemic.
The number of deaths linked to confirmed cases of the coronavirus reached a new UK high on Wednesday, the latest figures available, with 569 deaths recorded in a day, taking the total to 2,921.
Those deaths came as the British Medical Association (BMA) released new ethics guidelines for doctors that mean older patients with a low chance of survival could have life-saving ventilators removed so the machines can be given to healthier patients.
Newspaper headlines on Thursday blasted the government’s failure to test more, even in typically loyal British media outlets. “Why mass testing must be our No. 1 priority – and why we lag behind the rest of the world,” said the Telegraph’s online edition.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister told reporters Thursday that a total of 10,412 tests were carried out across the country on Tuesday.
A total of 2,800 NHS workers have now been tested at drive-in testing facilities, Downing Street said.
“We acknowledge that more needs to be done in relation to testing. We need to be testing more people and we need to be making progress very quickly,” the spokesman said.
Many health workers are self-isolating after showing possible symptoms of the coronavirus but could return to work sooner if testing showed they were not infected.
The latest figures come eight days after Johnson asserted that the UK was “massively ramping up” its nationwide testing program, and would continue to increase the number of tests carried out each week. The Prime Minister, who is himself in self-isolation after testing positive for the virus, posted a video to Twitter on Wednesday evening in which he lamented a “sad, sad day” in reference to the previous day’s death toll of 563.
He stressed his efforts to increase the country’s testing capacity, as well as listing the measures already put in place to deal with the pandemic and urging people to respect the restrictions currently in place.
“I want to say a special word about testing, because it is so important, and as I have said for weeks and weeks, this is the way through,” Johnson said. “This is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle. This is how we will defeat it in the end.”
Earlier in the day, Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of Public Health England, told Sky News that the UK was aiming to reach 25,000 tests a day by the middle of April.
Germany’s leading virologist Christian Drosten said last Thursday that his country was carrying ou