Less than half of the available coronavirus testing capacity has been used according to the latest figures, leaving the government facing an uphill battle to meet its 100,000 a day target.
Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson – who is continuing his recovery from Covid-19 – had full confidence in health secretary Matt Hancock but the government has come under fire over both its testing programme and the availability of vital equipment for health staff.
The government remains committed to the goal of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, but fewer than 20,000 were conducted in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.
That is despite there being capacity for 39,250 tests to have been carried out over the same period.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said the government was “absolutely standing by the target”.
“We are increasing capacity, clearly we need to make sure that capacity is being used and that’s what we are working on,” he said.
Some 19,316 coronavirus tests were carried out in England, Wales and Scotland in the 24 hours up to 9am on Monday.
Asked about the gap in testing capacity and tests conducted, the PM’s spokesperson said: “Ministers have been very clear that any spare capacity should be used to test NHS and social care staff and their families.
“As a result of the increased capacity which we have available, other critical care workers can now also get tests so that they can continue their vital work on the frontline.”
Meanwhile, a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) – including 400,000 badly-needed surgical gowns – remains in Turkey despite the presence of an RAF plane on stand-by to bring it to the UK.
The government said, meanwhile, that 140,000 gowns had arrived from Burma – but with the NHS using 150,000 a day, the demand on resources remains intense.
The PM’s spokesperson blamed “unprecedented demand for PPE globally” for some of the difficulties faced by the UK and other countries.
“There are challenges in the supply of PPE, there have been problems in ensuring that PPE gets to the right place at the right time,” he acknowledged.
“It’s the job of government to get PPE to staff in NHS and care sectors and we are working hard to do so.”
With fears that staff in hospitals and care homes are risking their lives, the TUC called for an independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the issue to be mounted before the end of the year.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a grotesque failure of planning and preparedness.”
It comes as:
– Coronavirus was linked to a third of all deaths in England and Wales in the week up to April 10, with the total number of care home deaths increasing almost six-fold in seven days to more than 1,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)
– Parliament was set to resume, with MPs expected to back a plan to allow remote questioning of ministers
– Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves accused the government of ignoring offers from British manufacturers to fill the PPE gap
– Dentists and anaesthetists became the latest groups to warn that they are working without adequate PPE
– Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, warned that the NHS’s supply of face masks could be jeopardised if the government begins advising the public to wear them, saying “clear evidence” would be needed before advice was changed
– Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s temporary release from an Iranian jail has been extended for one month
– The prime minister continued his recovery at Chequers, where he was due to speak on the phone to US president Donald Trump
The warnings over PPE came as the latest official figures showed a total of 16,509 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, up by 449 on the previous day.
Parliament resumes on Tuesday following an extended Easter break due to the pandemic.
MPs are expected to approve plans for new “virtual” sittings enabling them to question ministers thorough video links.
Under the “hybrid” arrangements, up to 50 MPs may still be present in the chamber in person, although they are being urged to stay away
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