Covid-19: Government facing pressure over testing as UK deaths hit 2,352

The Government is coming under increasing pressure over Covid-19 testing as the UK experienced its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths so far.

Some 2,352 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for the virus as of 5pm on Tuesday, the Department of Health said, up by 563 from 1,789 the day before.

It comes as Downing Street said more than 2,000 NHS staff have been tested for coronavirus as the Government faces intense scrutiny over its policy on testing.

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Britain before and after coronavirus lockdown
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Bournemouth beach on 28/06/19 (top), and on Monday 23/03/20 (bottom), the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on 28/01/14 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Jubilee Line platform on 31/01/13 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's Tower Bridge on 16/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of commuters at Waterloo station in London on 12/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Comedy about a Bank Robbery in line outside the Criterion Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of of commuters crossing London Bridge on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard on 13/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Bournemouth beach on 14/09/19 (top), and on Monday 23/03/20 (bottom), the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of people walking across the Millennium Bridge, London, with St Paul's Cathedral in the background, on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Station on 17/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in line outside the Palace Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Station on 17/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of visitors to Leicester Square, London, on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20, (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Ticket holders for Come from Away in line outside the Phoenix Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Edinburgh's Royal Mile on 14/03/20, and on Saturday (21/03/20) after bars, pubs and restaurants were instructed to close. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown on Monday night to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of people on the beach at Barry Island, South Wales, on 14/09/19 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of people on the beach at Barry Island, South Wales, on 19/06/17 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
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Around 8,000 test per days are currently being carried out across the UK even though ministers previously claimed a target of 10,000 tests per day had been hit.

At present, the focus is on testing patients in hospital to see if they have coronavirus, with NHS trusts told earlier in the week they should use up to 15% of any spare testing capacity for NHS staff.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has now scrapped that cap, telling NHS hospital labs to use all spare capacity to test their frontline workers.

The Government has blamed a global lack of reagents needed to carry out tests, though the chemical industry in the UK suggested there were no shortages.

Coronavirus cases in the UK.
(PA Graphics)

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing more than 2,000 NHS staff had now been tested, adding: "We're very clear that we want more testing to be carried out, and that we are working with NHS England, Public Health England and others to ensure that happens."

NHS staff have expressed frustration that they are being forced to self-isolate just as they are most needed, because tests are not available to show whether they are clear of the disease.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also called for an explanation on why the UK's Covid-19 testing is lagging behind other countries.

Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: "Germany are testing half a million people a week, yet we still haven't hit the 10,000 a day the Prime Minister promised.

"NHS staff are rightly asking if we've left it too late to buy the kits and chemicals we need, or whether our lab capacity is too overstretched after years of tight budgets."

However, some scientists have said ramping up testing in the UK will be difficult.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Stephen Baker, professor of molecular microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: "There are multiple issues with setting up new diagnostic testing capacity outside of regular diagnostic laboratories.

"This is not an overnight solution. Research laboratories have different approaches, equipment and staff."

He said multiple steps were required to ensure tests are done properly and results are correctly validated, adding : "There is nothing more dangerous at the moment than reporting incorrect negative or positive results to staff or patients."

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said maximum testing capacity in the UK was currently "very constrained" at around 13,000 tests per day.

He said on Twitter that if existing NHS pathology labs "had unlimited swabs and reagent, there would be enough test machine capacity to process around 100,000 tests a day".

He said a small sample of tests from NHS staff over the weekend showed only 15% were positive for coronavirus, and 85% could go back to work.

But he added: "Before getting carried away, remember testing capacity is still v constrained (currently 13k/day) and there are 1.2 million NHS staff. So no immediate prospect of mass staff testing."

Lots on staff testing this morning. Here's the perspective of trust leaders in one of my threads. https://t.co/udUnOcqHhx

— Chris Hopson (@ChrisCEOHopson) April 1, 2020

He told the BBC he knows of one NHS trust that can only test three staff members a day due to a lack of swabs.

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Radio 4's Today programme testing capacity should hit 15,000 in the next few days.

He denied the Government and PHE would only agree to centralised testing after claims from scientists and universities that their offers of help have been rejected.

He said the Government was willing to "work with any provider" who had the "right infrastructure and skills" and urged them to get in touch.

The minister also said he expects there to be 25,000 tests per day by the "middle of April".

Robert Jenrick
Robert Jenrick (Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA)

The promise of 25,000 tests per day by mid-April is in stark contrast to comments made by NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis last Wednesday when he said there would be "hundreds of thousands of tests" per day within the next few weeks.

PHE has also come under fire over wider testing of members of the public with Covid-19.

It has said repeatedly that most adults in good health who develop symptoms will fully recover and do not need to be tested.

However, many scientists disagree and say it is only through widespread testing that the UK will be able to track the virus and emerge from lockdown.

The row over testing comes as 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab became the youngest victim of Covid-19 in England.

In the US, Donald Trump said the UK's early approach to tackling the coronavirus outbreak would have been "very catastrophic" if Boris Johnson had not decided to change tack.

The US president suggested the Prime Minister had looked to "ride out" the virus in an approach that would have caused "a lot of death".

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