A Conservative minister has blamed “technical issues” in laboratories for the government repeatedly missing its daily coronavirus testing target of 100,000.
The Independent also reported that widespread testing for the virus had been suspended among staff and patients at hospitals and GP practices across London due to chemical shortages.
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Pressed on why the target had not yet been met, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes, there has been a drop off in the number of tests conducted – it was just under 69,500 yesterday.”
“The capacity has remained over 100,000,” he insisted. “There has been a technical issue in the laboratories. That is now being resolved so that will start to come back up again.”
Mr Lewis added: “The capacity has remained over 100,000 so therefore the capacity at all points in the last few days has been above demand. What we are looking to do is to increase capacity, to increase access for tests for people so more and more people can get it.”
Despite repeatedly failing to reach the 100,000 target outlined last month, Boris Johnson announced a fresh target of 200,000 tests at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
And adding to the sense of confusion, No 10 later revealed the new aim set out by Mr Johnson related only to testing capacity and not to the number of tests actually carried out.
Mr Lewis also refused to be drawn on what restrictions may be eased by the government on Sunday, as Mr Johnson prepares to make a statement to the nation on the next phase of the crisis.
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday that he hopes some lockdown rules could be eased as early as next week if new scientific evidence backs a relaxation of the stringent measures.
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“The cabinet are meeting later this morning,” he said. “We’ve got that review today. As has been outlined the prime minister will then after that make a statement about what the next stage is going to be.”
But he urged “caution”, adding: “The reality is we’re still at a high point of the virus. We believe we are past the peak, but we have to make sure we do not create a situation we can have a strong second peak very quickly.
“This virus spreads so fast and as we’ve seen tragically so deadly in some cases that we’ve got to make sure we take caution.
“We’re going to make sure we go forward in a way that actually puts people’s health first and actually make sure we do everything we can to avoid having any form of a second peak.”