The U.K. aims to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of April while significantly expanding the diagnostics industry, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today.
The goal is four times higher than the original aim of 25,000 tests by mid to late April. The announcement comes in the wake of significant criticism of the government’s slow progress in increasing its testing capacity.
The U.K. has only just reached the capacity to carry out 10,000 tests a day.
Hancock admitted that there are many challenges to increasing testing, including a shortage of swabs and reagents, the latter being a “global challenge.”
The 100,000 goal will include both swab testing for the virus and antibody testing that indicates whether someone has had the virus. To reach this target, Hancock pitched a “five-pillar plan” to increase testing, consisting of scaling up swab testing for the virus through Public Health England laboratories and NHS hospitals; increasing commercial swab testing for critical workers in the NHS; developing antibody tests; conducting surveillance testing to learn more about the spread of the disease; and building up the country’s mass diagnostic capacity.
An earlier goal of 250,000 tests a day is still in place, said Hancock, but he didn’t give a timeline for this.
The government is also working with the life sciences industry to “build a British diagnostics industry at scale,” he noted.
“We did not start this crisis with a large diagnostics industry but that doesn’t mean that we can’t build one,” he said.
Hancock also announced that the government would write off £13.4 billion of National Health Service Trusts’ debt. Over 100 hospitals will benefit from the announcement.