The government has the capacity to test 73,400 perople a day for coronavirus, but is only testing 43,500. To make up the gap – and to bring the target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month within reach – Health Secretary Matt Hancock today announced a significant expansion to the government’s testing programme, which will see free tests available to anyone over 65 with coronavirus symptoms, as well as their families.
Asymptomatic staff and patients in both care homes and the NHS at large are also now eligible. The last new group is anyone with symptoms that needs to leave their home for work, such as construction workers, researchers, and emergency plumbers. Their families will be eligible for tests, too.
Through a combination of this expanded eligibility and increasing capacity – new mobile testing centres are opening every day, and the government hopes to make 25,000 home test kits available daily by the end of the week – Hancock claims the government remains on track to hit its 100,000 target.
Hancock also spent much of today’s Downing Street coronavirus briefing talking about care homes, which are becoming the new frontline of the pandemic. New official figures show that death rates in care homes are accelerating, and that care homes account for as many as a quarter of all Covid-19 deaths in England (one leading statistician said today that more deaths are happening outside of hospitals than inside them). Care home data comes from many different sources, which makes analysing them difficult – but from tomorrow, the government will begin publishing daily figures for coronavirus deaths in care homes and the wider community. It should help us understand the size of the problem facing the sector.
To finish the day, British Airways gave us a sombre reminder that the pandemic is not just a health crisis, but an economic one, as it announced plans to make up to 12,000 staff redundant.
Scroll down through this live blog to catch up on all the important news from today.