The government has admitted for the first time that it will “probably” miss its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day in England by the end of April.
Health secretary Matt Hancock set the target at the start of the month as part of a ‘five-pillar’ strategy.
But justice secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News on Thursday that it was “probable we won’t” hit the target, which he described as “ambitious”.
“Even if it [the target] isn’t met, we’re well on our way to ramping this up and 100,000 is an important milestone, but frankly we need more,” he had earlier told BBC.
“Yes, 52,000 isn’t 100,000, I know that … but we are straining every sinew to get there.
“If he [Matt Hancock] hadn’t set a target he would have been criticised for being unambitious. I think now is the time in respect of this to be bold … being brave is something we should acknowledge even if the target isn’t met today.”
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Hancock has previously insisted the government was on track to meet the target by the end of the month.
Appearing on Nick Ferrari’s LBC radio show on Tuesday morning, he was grilled about his pledge to ramp up tests for the virus, despite just 37,024 being carried out on Sunday.
The health secretary was even persuaded to agree to a £100 wager, with LBC presenter Ferrari promising to give the money to Hospice UK if the target wasn’t met by 1 May.
Speaking on the show, Hancock said: “The plan was always to have a big ramp-up at the end of April because I spent April putting in place the systems to take this from an individual lab-by-lab process hand-done to an essentially automated process with an automatic application online.”
The ambitious target was set out by Hancock at the start of April as he defended the government’s approach following criticism over failures in testing.
He said England would hit 100,000 tests a day, which would include antigen tests that show whether people are currently suffering from COVID-19, as well as antibody tests to see whether people have had the infection and recovered.
Speaking at the time, he said: “I’m now setting the goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month. That is the goal and I’m determined we’ll get there.”