Coronavirus: The problem with politicans missing the target
Matt Hancock pledged to reach 100,000 Covid-19 tests by the end of April – but official targets are best avoided, writes Sean O'Grady, not least because you risk missing them
When, on 2 April, Mr Hancock, after much media pressure, unveiled his ambitious goal to take coronavirus testing from around 10,000 a day to 10 times that figure, he created a remarkable statistical rod for his own back. He did not have to do it, despite the poor reviews the government was receiving for its failures on testing. Yet he did so, by his own witness, to discipline himself to strain every sinew to get there, and to galvanise the entire machinery of the state, including the army.
In due course a “testing tsar”, Professor John Newton, was appointed, and has expressed confidence that the target will indeed be met. One cabinet minister, George Eustice, has said that the capacity for 100,000 tests a day is already in place. Another, Dominic Raab, has downgraded the target to an “aspiration”. Now, new drive-in centres have been announced, postal testing and web bookings opened up, and eligibility for testing has been widened to all key staff and people over 65. The actual number of tests taken remains far behind the goal. There is something of a pattern of successive failures on testing to be answered by the unveiling of ever more ambitious new targets. As a media strategy it has had some success.