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100,000 coronavirus test target is under fire as the Army steps in

Orderly file: People wait at a walk-in testing.centre staffed by Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment in Macclesfield PICTURE: PA

AN AMBITIOUS target to test 100,000 people a day is a ‘red herring’ which distracts from government failures in the coronavirus strategy, a critical NHS Providers report has found.

The health and care system ‘started from a poor position’ as Covid-19 spread through Europe, and lacked a clear strategy on who would be tested, when, how, and with what frequency, it said.

‘A vast amount still remains to be done to reach a testing regime that can be described as fit for purpose,’ added NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England.

Test drive: Soldiers direct people arriving by car at Salisbury Covid-19 centre PICTURE: PA

It comes as the government faced more questions over its daily testing target for the end of this month set by health secretary Matt Hancock.

Chris Hopson, NHS Providers chief executive, said members are becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of clarity on how the testing regime will be developed for the next phase.

He said: ‘Testing is one area where, despite all the work delivered by trusts and the NHS, the system as a whole has struggled to develop an effective, coordinated approach.

On duty: A member of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, collects samples PICTURE: PA

‘As we consider the route out of lockdown, what trust leaders need now is clarity on the testing regime from here on.’

Prof John Newton, the government’s testing supremo, said he remains confident of reaching the 100,000 landmark by the end of April.

But latest figures announced by foreign secretary Dominic Raab during yesterday’s Downing Street briefing showed the target was some way off being met, with 52,429 people tested for Covid-19 in the UK on Tuesday, despite eligibility being extended to 25million people.

NHS Providers described the target as ‘arbitrary’ and said it risked preventing the development of a ‘proper, next stage testing strategy’, adding: ‘It may be testing for testing’s sake.’

Yesterday, soldiers marshalled queues outside testing centres after Mr Hancock extended eligibility to all over-65s along with people who need to travel to work and their households. Members of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh, directed drivers waiting in Salisbury, while the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment staffed a pop-up centre in Macclesfield.

The Army is running another 17 ‘pop-up’ test centres which can travel to areas of high demand, with 70 more due to open this week.

A teacher in the three-hour queue at Macclesfield told Cheshire Live: ‘They didn’t have the right equipment so we had to wait. Then we were asked to get out of our car and stand in the rain with our four-year-old. Then they told us they had run out. It’s an absolute joke.’

Meanwhile, 15,000 home testing kits sent through the post were snapped up within minutes of becoming available on the government’s testing website yesterday.