Questions raised over coronavirus testing target as government says its hit 100,000 target

Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA WireMatt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire
Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire | JPIMedia Resell
THE government says it has hit its target for 100,000 coronavirus tests per day, with health secretary Matt Hancock saying it was an ‘incredible achievement’.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing, Mr Hancock said 122,347 tests were performed in the 24 hours up to 9am on Friday, adding that testing would help ‘unlock’ the UK's lockdown.

But questions have been raised over how the tests have been counted, with changes in the last few days meaning newer home test kits have been counted as they are dispatched.

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The overall total also includes tests dispatched to ‘satellite testing locations’ – such as hospitals that have a particularly urgent need – but does not detail whether the tests have actually been used.

When he set the target, Mr Hancock said the UK ‘will carry out’ 100,000 tests every day by the end of April.

The government's national testing co-ordinator, Professor John Newton, told reporters there had been ‘no change’ to the methodology but said advice had been sought on counting as ‘new ways of delivering tests’ were brought in.

He said: ‘There has been no change to the way that tests are counted.

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‘As we've developed new ways of delivering tests we've taken advice from officials as to how this should be counted.

‘So, the tests that are within the control of the programme, which is the great majority, are counted when the tests are undertaken in our laboratories.

‘But any test which goes outside the control of the programme, they're counted when they leave the programme, so that is the tests that are mailed out to people at home and the tests which go out in the satellite.

‘So that is the way they are counted, have always been counted, and the way we were advised to count them by officials.’

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He said some 27,497 kits sent out to homes were included in the total alongside 12,872 tests delivered to satellite locations.

Guidance on the government website appears to have changed on April 28 to include wording saying home tests and satellite tests were being included.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Labour has repeatedly called for more testing, and increasing testing is an important milestone.

‘But many would have expected the 100,000 promise to have been met by actually carrying out testing, not simply because 39,000 kits had been mailed out.

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‘The headline figure shouldn't count tests that hadn't been used, or indeed, might never be used as a completed test.

‘Ministers promised transparency – the public and NHS staff deserve clarity.’

Liberal Democrat acting co-leader Sir Ed Davey said: ‘The health secretary's arbitrary target of 100,000 tests by the end of April was always a hostage to fortune, and the truth is, he missed it.

‘It's extremely disappointing the government have decided to massage the metrics rather than admit they fell short, as this will only undermine public confidence.’

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It comes as 27,510 people have now died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Thursday, up by 739 on the day before.

This morning Professor John Newton, the government's national testing co-ordinator, insisted the 100,000 daily testing target was met despite home test kits being counted as they are dispatched rather than when they are returned.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: ‘All the tests are only counted once, and you can count tests when they go out or when they come back in, and whichever way you do it we still meet the target.’

He also said the home testing kits are as accurate as those carried out at drive-in centres.

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‘In the drive-in centres, we've tested whether people could test themselves in their cars or whether they were tested by somebody trained and we found the results were exactly the same, so that gave us confidence that the home testing was a good approach,’ he said.

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