The government met its 100,000 a day testing target for two days at the end of April, but has failed to maintain that level in early May. In the latest 24-hour period, there were just 69,463 tests completed.
Testing has been expanded to all key workers and anyone who cannot work at home in England, and across the UK, a network of nearly 100 mobile testing units operated by the armed forces are serving isolated communities and care homes.
Downing Street insisted the fall was due to a lack of demand rather than a fall in the capacity for testing.
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Far from delivering on the promise of 100,000 completed tests a day, testing numbers have now fallen three days in a row. A test, trace and isolate strategy is crucial to tackling this virus. Ministers needs to explain why the number of tests being completed daily is falling rather than rising.”
At PMQs, Boris Johnson set a new 200,000 daily coronavirus testing target, saying his “ambition” was for the new goal to be met by the end of the month. A “fantastic testing regime” will be critical to the UK’s long-term economic recovery, he added. But Downing Street made clear the new target – unlike the previous goal – was for the capacity to conduct 200,000 tests rather than the number performed every day.
In a frank interview, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it would have been good if the UK had gone into the Covid-19 pandemic with the diagnostic capabilities of Germany, where testing levels have been high since the start of the outbreak and social distancing measures, which have been lighter than in the UK, are being lifted.