In Brief

‘Irrational’ - No. 10 distances itself from Matt Hancock’s testing pledge

Sources say the health secretary has ‘not had a good crisis’

Downing Street sources say the Health Secretary’s promise that 100,000 people a day would be tested for coronavirus by the end of April is “arbitrary” and “irrational”.

The sources claim there is not the demand among NHS workers to meet the 100,000 target, with a Number 10 insider predicting that Matt Hancock’s headline-grabbing pledge will “come back and bite him”.

With nine days left for the government to honour Hancock’s promise, testing capacity is at 40% of its target.

Speaking of Hancock’s target, the Downing Street source told the Daily Telegraph: “There is a faint irrationality behind it, just because there was a clamour for mass testing. Hancock’s 100,000 target was a response to criticism in the media, and he decided to crank out tests regardless.”

They added: “Hancock’s not had a good crisis. The prime minister will say he has confidence in him, but it doesn’t feel like that. The 100,000 figure was Hancock’s idea – but he made that figure up.”

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However, sources close to Hancock insist the 100,000 target had been agreed by Downing Street. They claim that ministers and advisers are distancing themselves from key decisions to try and avoid censure at an eventual inquiry into the response to coronavirus.

The allies also point to the fact that in March, Boris Johnson set his own higher target, saying: “We're massively increasing the testing to see whether you have it now and ramping up daily testing from 5,000 a day, to 10,000 to 25,000 and then up at 250,000.”

Meanwhile, the Mirror says it visited testing centre locations and found them “eerily silent”. Arriving at a facility at Chessington World of Adventures, designed for NHS, police, fire and prison staff and their families to be tested, reporters say they found “only idling staff”.

Last week, Hancock admitted his 100,000 daily coronavirus tests target was an “ambitious goal”. The latest official figures show that just 19,316 tests were carried out in the 24 hours to Monday morning.

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