The UK failed to meet its target of conducting 100,000 daily Covid-19 tests for a fourth day running, data released on Wednesday (6) showed, as questions persist over the way it briefly manage to do so at the end of April.
Last week, health minister Matt Hancock claimed victory in his quest to expand Britain’s testing programme to 100,000 a day by the end of last month when he announced the government had conducted more than 122,000 tests on April 30.
However, in subsequent days the number has fallen back sharply. It dropped below 100,000 two days later and fell to a low of 69,463 in the 24 hours up to 0800 GMT on Wednesday.
The government has placed mass testing and contact-tracing at the top of its agenda as it seeks to unwind a nationwide lockdown, six weeks after ordering businesses to close and citizens to stay at home to slow the virus outbreak.
Capacity was expanded rapidly during April from a level of around 15,000 tests per day but political opponents have accused the government of manipulating the data in order to meet the closely watched month-end target.
They point to the fact that around 40,000 testing kits included in the April 30 figure were counted as completed tests at the point they were mailed out, not when they were actually returned or analysed.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, speaking in parliament on Wednesday before the latest announcement, asked prime minister Boris Johnson why the data had temporarily spiked at the end of April.
Johnson responded by saying that the system remained capable of more than 100,000 tests per day but that capacity was higher than demand at the moment. He went on to announce a new target of 200,000 tests per day by the end of May.
An official later clarified that he had meant the capacity to conduct 200,000 tests per day, not 200,000 completed tests.