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Testing capacity reaches 73,400 a day

28 April 2020

By Tim Le Couilliard, Senior Executive

For the second day in a row, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, led the Downing Street daily press conference. He was supported by Professor John Newton, the government’s testing coordinator, and Angela McLean, the Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser.

Hancock began with a solemn mention of the minute of silence that was observed across the country at 11 this morning, respecting the 85 NHS and 19 social care workers who have sadly lost their lives due to coronavirus - the “Nations’ Heroes”.

Praising the work of the health service, Hancock said that there are currently 3,260 spare critical beds across the NHS. 

There have been 4,343 notified deaths in care homes since Easter. The proportion of coronavirus deaths in care homes is about a sixth of the total, which as a proportion, Hancock cites is “just below what we see in ‘normal times’”. Promising transparency, Hancock has stated that, from tomorrow, the government will be publishing not just the number of hospital deaths each day, but also the number of deaths in care homes and in the community – statistics that were not previously possible.

On testing, the figures show that 763,387 tests have been carried out, including 43,453 in one day (yesterday). Of the tests, 161,145 have returned positive, a daily increase of 3,996. 21,678 have sadly died in hospital, a daily increase of 586.

On testing, Hancock noted that he had promised 100,000 tests a day. He reiterated that everyday testing capacity is being increased and that the government remains on track to meet the goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. There are now 41 drive-through centres, with 48 going live “this week”, whilst home testing is being expanded, increasing from 5,000 tests last Friday, to 25,000 a day by the end of this week. 17 mobile testing units will be ready by the weekend and operated by the Army, and over 70 will be deployed by the end of the next week across the country. Daily capacity now stands at 73,400.

Showcasing the progress, Hancock announced that while access was originally just available for hospital patients, tests could now be rolled out to asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes, and patients and staff in the NHS, regardless of symptoms. Going further, Hancock announced that over 65s and non-home workers (and their households) with symptoms, will now have access to testing.

On therapeutics work, which is investigating existing drugs that could be used to treat patients with coronavirus, Hancock stated that whilst there are currently no drugs in the world that have been proven to beat coronavirus, there are a number of “promising candidates”. The therapeutics “taskforce” is looking at 6 drugs, with the first now reaching the “next stage” of testing. This is a combined effort of government, academia and industry.

The Health Secretary also announced that guidelines for the use of medicines in care homes have been updated so that  for the duration of the pandemic and when it is clinically appropriate, medicines that have been labelled for use by one patient, can be used by another patient who needs them. This is already standard procedure in hospitals.

He reiterated that there will be no change to the social distancing rules until the Government’s five tests have been met.

In his opening remarks, Hancock did not reference face coverings or masks, unlike the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon who announced guidance, but not a requirement, that they should be worn outside their homes in confined spaces and public transport. She did state, however, that covering do not substitute social distancing.

Other figures that were announced today have shown that 3,203 fines have been issued by the Police to people breaching the lockdown restrictions. Elsewhere, some NHS hospitals in England have now restored processes that were postponed due to coronavirus. The waiting list is now at 4 million people.