UK will miss 100,000 coronavirus tests target, minister admits | World news

The UK government will not meet its target of carrying out 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of April, a cabinet minister has admitted.

After weeks of ministers insisting the deadline would be met, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, said it was “probable that we won’t” reach it on Thursday but said it was likely in the next few days.

“Even if we don’t hit it, we will in the next few days hit that target. We are up to 52,000 being tested, capacity is rising and I think it was right to set an ambitious target. Sometimes if you don’t hit a target on the due date, the direction of travel is the most important thing. And I believe we are going to get there and move beyond it because we need more,” he told Sky News.

The target was set by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, on 2 April as the government came under pressure over low testing levels.

At that point, there was capacity for 12,799 daily tests in England, with just over 10,650 tests carried out.

The total as of 9am on Wednesday was 52,429 tests with capacity to do 73,000, but only 33,000 individuals were tested because of multiple retests.

Ministers will not know until Friday or Saturday how many tests were carried out on 30 April, but the number is likely to jump substantially in the coming days because the criteria for those eligible for testing was widened earlier this week to include over-65s with symptoms, those who work outside the home with symptoms, and all care home residents and carers whether or not they have symptoms.

Buckland said he was frustrated by the likely failure to hit the target but encouraged that the rate of increase in testing had expanded so rapidly.

Earlier, hospital leaders launched a strident attack on the government’s testing strategy, regardless of the target.

Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents foundation trusts in England, dismissed the 100,000 target as a “red herring” that distracted from the lack of a coherent overall strategy.

NHS Providers said in a report on Wednesday: “NHS trust leaders believe they have done all they can to support the national testing effort so far but are increasingly frustrated with the lack of clarity on how the testing regime will be developed for this next phase.

“At the moment they feel they are on the end of a series of frequent tactical announcements extending the testing criteria to new groups with no visibility on any longer term strategy, and are being expected at the drop of a hat to accommodate these changes with no advance notice or planning.”

Boris Johnson will give a press conference on Thursday for the first time since leaving hospital almost three weeks ago, at which he is likely to be pressed on testing and cabinet discussions on ending the lockdown.

The update is likely to focus on where the UK stands in terms of halting the spread of coronavirus, but not set out any major changes for easing the lockdown.

Buckland said it would be “hugely regrettable and a tragedy” if the UK let the lockdown up too soon, signalling there are not likely to be many measures that are loosened next week.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Buckland agreed with Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, that it was necessary to be extremely cautious about lifting the lockdown.

Sturgeon told ITV’s Peston on Wednesday night: “People talk about lifting the lockdown, that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment – we’re going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual, I’m far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on the 7th of May we’ll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now, because the margins of manoeuvre that we’re operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.”

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