Published On: Wed, Apr 1st, 2020

‘Not being truthful’: UK govt lifts 15% cap in Covid-19 testing of NHS staff amid growing public anger

The UK government has removed a 15-percent cap on health professionals being tested for coronavirus, after previously claiming that a lack of the vital reagent chemical was to blame for the low number of frontline workers tested.

NHS England has written to the CEOs of all health trusts instructing them to drop the cap and make sure the full capacity of staff testing is used from now on, amid growing criticism of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government has set a target of carrying out 25,000 tests a day by the end of April. However, many critics say they have already broken promises on Covid-19 testing.

A Downing Street spokesman revealed on Wednesday that only around 2,000 NHS staff had been tested for Covid-19 in England, out of a total 1.3 million full-time equivalent staff for NHS England.

On Tuesday night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who is in isolation having contracted the virus himself – removed the cap that reserved 85 percent of testing capacity for patients.

It has left many on social media puzzled as to why the existence of a cap hadn’t been made known before in Covid-19 daily briefings conducted by British PM Boris Johnson, various cabinet ministers and health officials. There were some on Twitter who accused the government of “not being truthful.”

During a Covid-19 daily briefing on Tuesday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove blamed the low testing numbers on a shortage of the vital chemical reagent. It’s a claim that has since been challenged by the chemicals industry, who suggest they could increase their output but just need government guidance on how much to scale up their supplies.

Daily coronavirus-related deaths reached an all-time high in the UK on Wednesday with 563 fatalities for one 24-hour period, bringing the country’s toll to 2,352. The Department for Health and Social Care’s figures only account for deaths that occurred in hospital. As of April 1, 29,474 people in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus.

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Paramedics and ambulances are seen outside the Excel Centre in London, April 1, 2020. © REUTERS / Henry Nicholls
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