UK health minister back at work after COVID-19 recovery, pledges more tests

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The UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who had been self-isolating after his COVID-19 diagnosis last week, returned to the frontline to address the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday, during which he set out the government’s strategy to boost testing for the deadly virus.

Under a new step-by-step plan, the minister said the government’s new goal is to have 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day by the end of April.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who continues to be in self-isolation after he tested positive for coronavirus last Friday, had posted a video message on Twitter pledging the government would “massively ramp up” testing because that would “unlock the coronavirus puzzle”.

During the daily briefing, Hancock also revealed another massive leap in the UK’s death toll, which rose by a further 569 to hit a total of 2,921 — the second day in a row when the country registered a spike in deaths of over 500 in a single day.

“The rate of infection is currently believed to be doubling every three-four days,” said the minister, adding that he was back “redoubled” in his determination to fight this virus.

“During the last week we have completed a whole new hospital, the NHS Nightingale Hospital in London, built in nine days. This has been an incredible achievement,” he said.

He went on to lay out a point-by-point plan to enhance the testing capabilities to ensure National Health Service (NHS) staff are prioritised for the process in order to be able to carry on their work to fight against the disease.

Amid criticism of the UK not having taken the decisive testing steps as neighbouring Germany where the death toll from COVID-19 is much lower, Hancock said the UK had not gone into this crisis with a huge diagnostics industry, as Germany had.

He admitted a lack of materials such as swabs and reagents, which is a global challenge.

“Our ultimate goal is that anyone who needs a test shall have one,” he said. In what he categorised as a “landmark” move, the minister also announced that more than GBP 13-billion of debt accrued by the NHS will be wiped by the government to enable the health service to respond better to the pandemic and ensure it is better prepared in the long-term.

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