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2 April 2020

Daily briefing with Matt Hancock, Stephen Powis, John Newton – acknowledges testing challenges and sets out new plan for 'significant increase in testing'


Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock includes these key points in his speech. New personal protective equipment (PPE) standards have been announced today, setting out the appropriate level of PPE in all circumstances. Matt Hancock says these standards are among the highest in the world and in line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidance. To support the COVID-19 response, the government is writing off £13.4bn of historic NHS debt – a 'landmark step'. Hancock describes challenges related to testing and sets out the government's plan for a significant increase in testing. The ultimate goal is that anyone who needs a test should have one. The testing plan has five 'pillars':

  • Increasing swab testing in Public Health England (PHE) labs and within NHS hospitals, with a target of 25,000 tests per day in England by the end of April 2020.
  • Creation of new swab testing capacity delivered by commercial partners, universities, research institutes and companies like Amazon and Boots.
  • Blood testing: the government is currently working with nine companies and evaluating the effectiveness of COVID-19 blood tests (to test whether people have had COVID-19).
  • Surveillance: including by conducting some of the biggest surveys in the world to find out what proportion of the population already have the virus. This surveillance uses an antibody test operated by PHE, with the capacity for 3,500 tests a week – enough for population sampling to begin with.
  • Pharmaceutical companies are now working with small diagnostics companies to build a British diagnostics industry at scale – the ‘new national effort for testing’.

The goal is to get to 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. This target covers all five pillars of the testing strategy. Building a testing industry is not easy. 'There will be bumps in the road and criticisms made, and some of them will be justified.'

In the Q&A, Matt Hancock says: 'I’ve been pushing this as fast as possible since the early days of the epidemic, and I’ve come out with more detail on the five pillars now because it’s quite clear that we need to bring yet more partners in to drive this national effort forward.' He also says that the government is considering immunity passports and has purchased 17.5 million antibody tests. John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England, says, 'It’s quite clear that the need to increase testing was recognised from the outset', but the requirement for testing is increasing exponentially, and this is why a separate workstream has been set up.


Gov.uk speech