What is the government's new 'five pillar' coronavirus testing strategy?

2 April 2020, 19:20

Matt Hancock announced a 'five pillar' coronavirus battle plan
Matt Hancock announced a 'five pillar' coronavirus battle plan. Picture: Getty

By Tobi Akingbade

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today unveiled a ‘five pillar plan’ to dramatically increase coronavirus testing in the UK - but what are the steps he laid out?

Mr Hancock, who recovered from Covid-19 to deliver today's press conference, said he came back “redoubled in my determination to fight this virus with everything I’ve got”.

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Laying out his “five-pillar” strategy for tests, Mr Hancock said that he is committed to increasing the UK's capacity from 10,000 tests a day to 100,000 by the end of April.

But how does he plan to achieve this?

Accelerating Public Health England in-house testing to hit a 25,000-a-day target

His first action point is to increase swab testing in Public Health England labs and within NHS hospitals. These are the tests that indicate if you currently have the virus.

Mr Hancock wants to accelerate the current in-house testing run by PHE to ensure it hits a target of 25,000 tests a day of patients and key NHS staff by the middle of April.

This comes after the Government previously suggested it might take until the end of the month or even May.

Currently, the scheme has been criticised because only about 8,000 patients have been tested daily out of a current capacity of 12,500, meaning thousands of tests have been wasted.

Mr Hancock added: “With 5,000 tested since (staff testing) started at the weekend we’ve clearly made significant progress.”

Using private firms, including universities and other businesses, to establish more swab testing;

The second pillar involves leaning on private firms to buy up their swab testing capacity.

This could mean partnerships with companies like Amazon and Boots, as well as using lab space at universities and research institutions.

Professor Paul Cosford, of PHE, said it “will give us another 100,000 or more tests a day” in the coming weeks.

The roll-out of new reliable antibody blood tests to determine whether people have had Covid-19

Mr Hancock said the Department of Health has access to millions of new tests, including pregnancy test-style sticks that give a result in just 15 minutes.

Mr Hancock said: “We are currently working with nine companies who have offered these tests and evaluating their effectiveness.”

A mass survey of the UK's population to build a map of the spread of the disease

A project is under way to create a giant database charting how the virus is spreading through the UK using the results of people who have undergone antibody tests.

Increasing the UK's diagnostic capacity

Mr Hancock announced plans to create an 'at scale' diagnostic facility in the UK that will allow the UK to test 100,000 people per day by the end of April, rising to 250,000 per day at a later date in accordance with an announcement by the Prime Minister