Wednesday 1 April 2020 12:06 pm

UK taking too long to administer coronavirus tests, minister admits

A cabinet secretary has admitted that it may be taking too long too long for the UK to reach its coronavirus testing targets amidst anger at the lack of progress.

The government missed its target of testing 10,000 people per day last week and has fallen well behind other OECD countries, such as Germany who is testing 70,000 people per day.

Read more: Michael Gove overstates number of UK coronavirus tests as government misses target

Housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick said this morning that he “appreciates for many people it may be taking too long” and that the government was aiming at administering 15,000 tests a day by the end of this week.

On Monday, the NHS tested just 8,240 individuals, however there is capacity to test a little under 11,000.

“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.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove saidyesterday 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.

Alex Blakemore, head of life sciences at Brunel University London, echoed Gove’s explanation.

He told The Times: “Everyone in the world wants those same reagents and the suppliers can only supply a certain amount.

“We are now in competition with the rest of the world . . . and other people have already bought up a lot of stock.

“If we were better prepared we could have made our own.”

However, Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organisation, told the 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.”

There has also been criticism from medical bodies that frontline NHS staff have not been tested as a matter of priority.

Read more: UK coronavirus outbreak is slowing and antibody test could be ready in days, says top scientist

British Medical Association chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “It’s been well over two weeks since the government said it was going to roll out priority testing for healthcare staff.

“But many doctors still have no idea about where or how they can get tested.”