The health secretary insisted the goal remains achievable, but his comments appear to be the first admission from a minister that the government could miss the 100,000 figure in just six days’ time.
Mr Hancock also said it was “too soon” to end the UK-wide lockdown and relax social distancing measures until the number of new covid-19 infections fall significantly.
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It comes as the government expands the criteria for those who can be tested for the virus on Friday morning, opening an online booking system for millions of key workers and their families.
Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he will hit his goal of 100,000 tests per day – just over 23,000 were carried out on Wednesday – Mr Hancock said: “We’re ahead of our internal plan for where we expected capacity to be. And we’ve got a week left to hit that goal.”
Pressed again on the actual government target of tests carried out – rather than capacity – he continued: “I do yes, but nothing is guaranteed in life.”
Mr Hancock added the government programme of mass contact tracing would be “up and running in a matter of weeks”, after the government revealed its plan to recruit at least 18,000 people to participate in the running of the programme.
“The combination of mass testing and the contact tracing alongside it – these things are so crucial for holding down the rate and the level of transmission of the disease,” the cabinet minister added.
“If they work, as they have in other countries, then they’ll be able to hold down the number of new cases with fewer social distancing restrictions which is why they are so important to get in place in large scale.”
Questioned on whether they need to be in place before any easing of the present restrictions, he continued: “Not quite. It’s too soon now to change the social distancing rules and we’ve set out the five tests that will follow before making those sort of changes.”
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“We’re at the peak and we very much hope things will start to slope down. If as and when they do then the speed with which the number of new cases reduces will frankly determine how long we need to keep the measures on. And that is yet unknowable.”
On reports Boris Johnson could return to No 10 on Monday – after being hospitalised earlier this month for coronavirus – the health secretary said Mr Johnson is “getting much better”
In a separate interview, Mr Hancock said the PM “by his nature he is an extremely enthusiastic and hard working guy and he doesn’t like slouching”, adding: “Of course, this is an unprecedented crisis. However, having said that, he has followed his doctors’ advice and it is down to a conversation between the prime minister and his doctors as to exactly when he comes back.
“The good news is he is clearly very much on the mend. He has spoken to the president of the United States, he has spoken to Her Majesty and he has been talking to those of us in cabinet who are involved in the response.”