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The government will probably fail to hit its target of testing 100,000 people per day for coronavirus by the end of April, justice secretary Robert Buckland has admitted.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had promised to meet that goal by the end of today.
But speaking to Sky News this morning, Buckland said currently 52,000 people were being tested per day, but added capacity was “rising”.
“Even if we don’t hit it, and it’s probable that we won’t, we will in the next few days,” he said of the 100,000 pledge.
It will not become clear until Friday at the earliest whether the target has been missed.
Buckland added: “If he [Hancock] hadn’t set a target he would have been criticised for being unambitious.
“I think now is the time in respect of this to be bold … being brave is something we should acknowledge even if the target isn’t met today.”
The admission came as Boris Johnson prepares to chair the first meeting of his cabinet since he returned to work.
The prime minister will take charge of a remote meeting of his top team after recovering from coronavirus, and a day after he became a father again.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is also gathering on Thursday before Johnson fronts the daily Downing Street press conference this afternoon.
SAGE is looking at a selection of options for easing restrictions while still keeping the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – the number of new cases linked to a single individual – below one in order to stop it spreading exponentially.
Downing Street said Thursday’s cabinet meeting would look at the “coronavirus response in general” but is not expected to make decisions on easing lockdown measures.
The comments came after Public Health England (PHE) announced a total of 26,097 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community in the UK after contracting Covid-19.
It is the first time data on the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community has been included in the government’s daily updates.
The total reached by the new method of reporting is around 17% higher than previous data showed and includes an additional 3,811 deaths recorded since the start of the outbreak.
Of these, around 70% were outside hospital settings and around 30% were in hospital.
The change in measurement means the UK death toll is now the third highest in the world, behind the US and Italy, based on data from Johns Hopkins University. The US has reported 58,355 deaths and Italy 27,359.
The government pointed out other countries may report figures differently and any lag is unclear, although France and Italy also include deaths in care homes.