A new testing facility for coronavirus has now opened in Milton Keynes, the Health Secretary announced.
Matt Hancock told a press briefing that the Government was “ramping up” checks after it faced criticism over a lack of testing for Covid-19, including among frontline NHS workers.
It comes after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that the UK is testing “virtually no more people than over a week ago”, as he urged the Government to commit to a timeline.
The new testing facility in the Buckinghamshire town opened on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said, while he added the UK has also bought 3.5 million antibody tests to show whether people have had the virus.
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 24, 2020
“I understand why NHS staff, in particular, and others across public service are so keen to get the testing ramped up, that we need to see and that we are undertaking,” he said.
“Of course it really matters for getting people getting back to work, so we have now bought 3.5 million antibody tests.
“That will allow people to see whether they have had the virus and are immune to it and then can get back to work.”
He added: “On testing, we are ramping up, those will come online very soon.
“In fact, our new testing facility in Milton Keynes opens today and we are therefore on the ramp up of the testing numbers.”
The Government has been working to increase testing amid widespread concern that the UK has no clear idea how many people have coronavirus.
NHS workers are also calling for tests, with some forced into isolation under current rules when a negative test would enable them to go back to work.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Hunt raised concerns in the House of Commons that the number of tests had not been increasing, despite such a commitment from the Government.
He said: “The concern is that we appear to be testing on a daily basis virtually no more people than over a week ago, when the commitment was to increase the daily amount of tests from 5,000 to 25,000 tests.
“And given that this is a vital part of the success of the suppression strategies in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, can he give us an estimated date when we will get back to routine Covid-19 testing in the community of all suspected cases?
“Because even if that’s three, four weeks away, a date means there’s a plan, and without a date, people won’t be confident that this really is the plan.”
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock said the Government was “in the middle” of buying the tests that are needed, adding that his team would make them available as quickly as possible.
It comes after a leaked Number 10 email sent to research institutes suggests the Government was asking as late as Sunday to borrow equipment to increase testing.
Reported by the Politico website, the email included a plea from Prime Minister Boris Johnson to borrow or buy equipment for testing, saying there are “no machines left to buy”.
But on Tuesday, the Government denied it had waited until Sunday to ask private sector firms and other institutions for support, insisting efforts had been going on for weeks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s no secret that we are rapidly scaling up our efforts to boost testing capacity to protect the vulnerable, to support our NHS and to save lives.
“Together with Public Health England and the NHS we are exploring how we can work across industry and academic sectors to establish viable options which will significantly ramp up the number of tests we can carry out.”