Daily coronavirus tests fall below 80,000

The number of daily tests being carried out for coronavirus in the UK has fallen to below 80,000, new figures show.

Statistics published by the Government on Sunday indicate that a total of 76,496 were carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on May 3.

On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the Government's target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April had been achieved, with more than 122,000 tests having been provided on the last day of the month.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Since then, the number has dropped by about 40,000 according to official statistics.

Michael Gove Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe Getty Images.

Overall, a total of 1,206,405 coronavirus tests have been carried out in the UK since the beginning of April.

In the Government's daily briefing on Sunday, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said that steps taken to extend testing would help get more people back to work.

He said: "Thanks to the hard work of so many across the NHS, Public Health England, our pharmaceutical sector and our universities, we have tested over 200,000 key workers and their families, allowing those who don't have the virus to go back to work and protecting those who do.

"We have now of course extended the criteria for testing beyond key workers to anyone over 65 displaying symptoms, and anyone who has to travel to get to work.

"And this week, we will be piloting new test, track and trace procedures on the Isle of Wight with a view to having them in place more widely later this month.

"All of these steps will help us to get more people back to work and help to support the delivery of our public services."

On the testing figures, NHS England's national medical director Professor Stephen Powis told the briefing: "You will see that testing capacity has ramped up very quickly over the last week or so and we are now at a very high level of testing, over 100,000 - a little bit of a dip in the weekend, but we anticipate that that testing capacity will continue to increase.

When asked about his confidence in models predicting what may happen with any change in lockdown rules, Prof Powis said "the reality will always be different from the model, it will not exactly replicate the model", and "there are some unknowns".

He said the public had been "really excellent at complying" with the rules, and so far, trends have tended to follow the models produced.

He said: "It's followed it pretty much in the shape of what we've seen so that does give me some confidence that going forward models are a reasonable way of predicting what we might see.

"They do predict that over the next month or so we will continue to see a decline in the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19, the number of people in critical care and indeed the number of deaths."

He added: "They will never be an absolute perfect prediction of reality but I have confidence that going forward they will give us a very good guide of what we are likely to see."

When Mr Gove was pressed about the British Medical Association's announcement that half of all doctors have had to source their own PPE during the pandemic, he said: "We were doing everything that we can."

Mr Gove said: "It has been the case that for those in general practice they will have been sourcing their own equipment for themselves in any case, but of course we want to make sure that we do everything at an NHS level and beyond to support everyone."

When asked what he would say to families who have lost loved ones working in the NHS, Mr Gove said "every death is a tragedy" and added "there will be moment when we can reflect on what we could have done better".

He said: "It doesn't take away from the responsibility of any of us in Government, but it is a global challenge."

Prof Powis added: "As a doctor who worked on the frontline for many, many years I know how critical it is that PPE is provided to my colleagues, my friends on the frontline.

"It's an international market that's under significant stress as every country tries to purchase PPE."

Earlier on Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted that fewer Britons would have died from coronavirus if more tests had been available earlier, as he warned life would not return to "business as usual" when Boris Johnson sets out his exit strategy.

Mr Grant Shapps said "many things" could have been different if the UK's testing capacity was above 100,000 before Covid-19 spread in the country.

More than 28,000 people have now died after testing positive for the virus in the UK.

Mr Shapps also confirmed the NHSX contact tracing app - which he said would need 50 to 60 per cent of people to use for it to be successful - will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week before being rolled out later this month.

The app will be central to the Government's efforts in slowing the spread of coronavirus and will involve alerting people who have been in contact with an infected person and asking them to self-isolate.

In an interview with BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, he was asked whether fewer people would have died if testing capacity had been greater sooner.

Mr Shapps replied: "Yes. If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I'm sure many things could be different.

"The fact of the matter is this is not a country that had - although we're very big in pharmaceuticals as a country - we're not a country that had very large test capacity."

Asked about the app, Mr Gove told Sunday afternoon's briefing: "When it comes to contact tracing, the more people who download the app that's been developed by the NHS the better.

"There are some 80,000 households on the Isle of Wight, and obviously we'd like to see more than half of households, if we can, sign up to the app."

When asked if he agreed with Mr Shapps that lives could have been saved if testing had been in place earlier, Mr Gove said the Government will "reflect" on "what we did right and what we did wrong".

Mr Gove said: "This Government like all governments will have made mistakes, but it will be impossible to determine exactly which were the areas of gravest concern until some time in the future when we have all the information that we need."

He added: "I think there will be a time when we've got this virus under control when we can ask ourselves some deep and probing questions about lessons we can learn as a country from how we handled this virus in its early stages.

He said "the amazing achievement" in increasing the number of tests had been an example of what "the public sector and the private sector working together under a very strong political leadership can achieve".

Mr Gove acknowledged that lockdown measures will have an impact on people's "mental and emotional well-being" as well as economic activity.

Responding to a question from the member of the public, Rebecca from Scotland, he said the Government would be guided by its five tests before easing lockdown.

He warned that it would be "the worst thing to do" to "prematurely" relax measures and risk a second spike in the disease.#

Prof Powis said he was aware that lockdown measures "can have detrimental effects in terms of health, but also emotional and social effects".

"We are very keen, as are all my clinical and scientific colleagues, to make sure that as soon as we possibly can we are able to give advice that allows those measures to be relaxed," he said.

Prof Powis added: "The harm that might be done in terms of health as a direct effect of the virus, deaths due to the virus, has to be balanced off over time against the harm that is done around lockdown.

"And it's not easy, those are two things that are not easy to reconcile."

Michael Gove praised Matt Hancock's "amazing success in increasing testing", which he said means the public will have "greater confidence" in the Government as they move into the next phase of lockdown.

"The British public have shown amazing stoicism and understanding of the need for the lockdown measures," he said.

"Quite rightly they want to make sure that if and when they are eased, they're eased in way that makes sure the British people's sacrifice has been worthwhile, and that we continue to operate in a way that means public health comes first.

"And that's why it's so important that we consult with employers and trade unions, to make sure that people understand the guidance about working safely."

He said the Government will pursue a "phased approach" to removing lockdown restrictions rather than a sudden return to "the old normal".

Chris in London asked what lessons have been learned for future waves of the virus and how the government will ensure there are enough PPE and ventilators in the future.

Mr Gove said: "We're learning lessons all the time, as indeed the world is.

"This is a new virus and scientists are working internationally to determine what the best means is of dealing with it.

"And that's why we are piloting treatments which can prevent the virus, once people have been infected, becoming more dangerous for them.

"It's also why we're working internationally to seek to secure a vaccine, though of course we expect that may be some time away.

"But one of the things that we have learned is how to improve our testing capacity.

"We also now have increased domestic ventilator production and Lord Deighton is increasing domestic PPE production as well.

"And I think the lessons that we're learning in the UK are similar to the lessons that other countries are learning as well."

The Prime Minister has pledged to set out a "comprehensive plan" on how the current lockdown may be eased on Thursday, when the Government must legally review the measures.

Earlier on Sunday, Grant Shapps cautioned that life would not return to how it was in February, before the social distancing measures were introduced.

He told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "I don't think we should expect us to go from this situation that we have at the moment of social distancing back to where we were in February - that's clearly not going to happen and I don't think anyone imagines that for one moment.

"The most important thing is that the absolute focus of what the Prime Minister will be announcing later in the week is that what we do do going forward doesn't undo the brilliant work people have been doing to get that R number below 1 - the all-critical reproduction rate doesn't come back up because that's when we'd see a second spike.

"So, no, I'm afraid it is definitely not going to be business as usual but we do want to make sure that people understand where the routemap lies."

Asked when daily life might return to normal, Mr Gove said that the easing of lockdown restrictions had to be done in a "cautious fashion".

He added: "The transport secretary (Grant Shapps) was right to say that we can begin to see perhaps more people use public transport, but provided they are helped to stagger or to

control the times when they use public transport, in the way that people have already adjusted to how they might use supermarkets and food shops and so on."

Mr Gove said he suspected people would have to live with "some degree of constraint" until a vaccine was developed.

Prof Powis highlighted that the virus, until the end of last year, was not known.

He said: "So we're only really four months into any knowledge at all about this virus and it's really difficult to know how this is going to play out in the months and years ahead."

But Prof Powis said the scientific response to the virus had "probably been the greatest to any new virus", helping to increase the pace of finding a vaccine and treatments.