Hospitals have been urged by Number 10 to test more NHS frontline staff for coronavirus as it has been revealed that only 2,000 have been tested.
The government has come under fire this past week for failing to reach its daily coronavirus testing target, with the UK falling behind other OECD countries.
There were just 8,360 coronavirus tests carried out in England on Tuesday, despite having capacity for 12,750 a day.
Only 2,000 frontline NHS England staff have been tested so far out of more than half a million doctors and nurses.
A Downing Street spokesman said today that “instruction has been sent to all NHS hospital trusts that where there is capacity is available it should be used on testing frontline staff”.
Housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick said this morning that he “appreciates for many people it may be taking too long”. He added the government was aiming for 15,000 tests a day by the end of this week.
“We do need to go further and we need to do that faster,” Jenrick said.
“Some countries have proved to be more able to get tests – that is partly dependent on the manufacturing base in their own country.”
The government’s aim is to test 25,000 people in a little over two weeks, however even this would be well short of some other countries.
Germany is testing 70,000 people a day and is aiming for 200,000.
Australia, with a population just over a third of the UK, has tested double the amount of people for Covid-19.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said yesterday there was a global shortage of the chemicals needed to administer Covid-19 tests.
He said this was putting a “critical constraint” on the country’s ability to follow the World Health Organisation’s call for countries to “test, test, test” in order to track the spread of Covid-19.
However, Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organisation, told BBC Radio 4 yesterday that there was no reason why the UK couldn’t vastly increase testing.
“We have 44 molecular virology labs in the UK,” he said.
“If they were doing 400 tests a day, we would be up to Germany levels of testing and that is perfectly feasible.
“Public Health England were slow and only allowed non-PHE labs to start testing two weeks ago, but that was after the strategy shift to end community tests.”