TESTING companies have been left “mystified” by the government’s promise to carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.
Industry leaders tasked with producing COVID-19 tests said they were blindsided by the four week deadline announced by Matt Hancock, and warned the kits wouldn’t be ready until June.
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The chief representative of the UK’s testing industry said Mr Hancock did not mention the deadline in a video conference shortly before the announcement, and manufacturers said they were “mystified” by the blistering timetable.
On Thursday, in his first appearance since battling the virus himself, the Health Secretary pledged to rapidly ramp up the UK’s testing capacity.
After the government came under fire for failing to conduct more tests, Mr Hancock said England would deliver 100,000 a day by the end of the month.
However, manufacturers tasked with producing the kits by the government have said the sudden deadline is not deliverable.
Dr Joe Fitchett, medical director of Mologic, a company given £1 million by the Department of Health to make a test kit, said they would only be available from June at the earliest.
He told The Telegraph: “That’s very fast to produce something from a prototype.”
Dr Fitchett also said he doubts other firms could produce tests quicker: “Anyone can produce rubbish prototypes, as seems to have happened in Spain, unfortunately – but it has to work. It’s a real challenge to make sure you have enough of what you need for the country.”
The target is his target that he set without any consultation with the industry.
The head representative of the UK’s testing industry echoed Dr Fitchett’s warnings, saying they were not told about end of April deadline in a call with Mr Hancock on Wednesday.
Doris-Ann Williams, chief executive of the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association, said: “The target is his target that he set without any consultation with the industry.
She told The Times: “So while we’ll do everything we can to help meet it because it’s in our interest as part of the UK population, we can’t make any promises.”
Ms Williams said she took part in a video conference with Mr Hancock on the day before his announcement, but “there were no numbers discussed at the meeting and there was no commitment from either side to numbers.”
The government has already ordered 17.5 million antibody kits, which would tell patients if they have already had the virus and recovered, and is currently examining their effectiveness.
Health officials had indicated that the tests could be available in a matter of weeks, with Boris Johnson calling them a “game-changer”.
Earlier this week, Spain returned 640,000 testing kits made in China after it emerged they only had a 30 per cent accuracy rate.
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The warning has dealt a blow to hopes that coronavirus restrictions could be removed in May.
Professor Neil Ferguson, who has been advising the government on its COVID-19 response, said that some of the tightest restrictions could be removed next month if there was a rapid increase in testing.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We want to move to a situation at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now.”
He continued: “There is a great deal of work underway to look at how we can substitute some of the very intense social distancing currently in place with a regime more based on intensive testing, very rapid access to testing, contact tracing of contracts.
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“But in order to substitute that regime for what we’re doing now, we need to get case numbers down.”
The latest figures show that 183,190 people have been tested for coronavirus in the UK, with 41,903 coming back positive.
4,313 people have died from the virus.