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Questions are being asked over whether the UK’s coronavirus testing capacity is truly being “ramped up” after it emerged at least 100,000 swabs will be sent to labs in Germany.
The tests are being sent to the EU country as part of a home test kits programme announced on April 29 – the day before the UK reportedly hit its 100,000 tests a day target on April 30.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has also admitted a number of individual trusts have private sector contracts with international labs, including those in Germany.
The government publicised sending 50,000 tests to the US after issues with British labs, but did not admit until pressed that many more were also being sent to Europe.
Ministers now face fresh demands to be more transparent with the public.
Boris Johnson and numerous other cabinet members have attempted to reassure the public that the UK’s testing capacity is growing.
It comes as the prime minister aims to ease the Covid-19 lockdown in the coming weeks, and after Hancock pledged to offer tests to everyone in care homes.
Individual trusts, such as Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, are thought to be sending tests to Germany as results reportedly arrive much faster than waiting for the UK to process them.
Germany has not been so hard-hit by the pandemic as other countries, with 8,049 deaths and around 177,000 confirmed cases.
Munira Wilson, health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the UK is “woefully behind the curve” on testing.
She also accused the government of “playing with politics” by not being upfront about testing sent to EU countries.
She said: “At every step of the way, the government have been slow to ensure our health service is properly equipped to tackle coronavirus – from ventilators and protective equipment, to tests. Of course, when we are in need it is absolutely necessary to seek help and source provisions from other countries, but it is testament to how woefully behind the curve UK ministers have been.
“The government must make clear what exactly the testing capacity is within the UK, and be frank with the public about how much we are relying on our international partners. It also goes without saying that publicising some whilst ignoring the aid of others, particularly those countries within the EU, shows that the government are playing with politics rather than focusing on the crisis at hand.”
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, meanwhile told HuffPost UK: “Ministers must explain if tests sent to Germany for processing are counted in the UK ‘capacity’ figures they refer to at press conferences or if this is additional.”
It is unclear whether the 100,000 is included in the testing capacity figures, but a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This is part of our planned national surveillance study. Understanding more about the current spread of coronavirus and the prevalence of antibodies is a vital part of our ongoing response to this pandemic.”