Health Secretary Matt Hancock compares mass coronavirus testing to a 'moonshot'
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, August 19 that ministers were ‘working as fast as we can’ to achieve the ‘moonshot’ of mass testing so restrictions could be eased.
He said: “This is a really, really important drive that we have across Government to bring in mass testing, population-wide testing.
“We’re ramping it up over the remainder of this year. I’m not going to put a firm deadline on it. The answer is we’re working as fast as we can.
“This moonshot to have testing ubiquitous and available, to reopen all sorts of things, to reduce the burden of the quarantine arrangements, which nobody wants to have in place, to allow us to reopen parts of the economy, that is an incredibly important project within Government right now.”
Initial testing capabilities would not have been able to cope with a population-wide programme – with some tests taking days to be returned.
But rapid tests – some providing results in as little as 90 minutes – have recently been introduced.
Mr Hancock was speaking as the Government faced criticism for axing the public health body in England in the middle of the pandemic.
Critics have expressed dismay Public Health England (PHE) is being dismantled during the crisis, but Mr Hancock said delaying the change would have been wrong.
The new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will take in some of PHE’s responsibilities along with the NHS Test and Trace programme and the work of the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
Quizzed about the timing of the announcement, Mr Hancock told Sky News: “My responsibility is to make sure that the pandemic response is the best it possibly can be and that’s why I’ve taken this decision now.
“One of the lessons from the crisis, for me, is that if something is the right thing to do, then delaying doing it is the wrong thing.”
But Labour said breaking up PHE during the pandemic was ‘irresponsible’ and ‘risky’, with shadow health secretary Jonathon Ashworth saying structural reorganisation was ‘time consuming and energy sapping’.