Coronavirus testing to be made available to all over 65-year-olds with symptoms
Ministers scramble to meet Matt Hancock's goal of 100,000 tests per day by end of April
Anyone over 65-years-old with symptoms of Covid-19 will be able to get tested for the virus as the government ramps up its testing programme, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary told the daily Downing Street press conference that older people and their families would now be eligible for testing, as well as people who leave their homes to work who have coronavirus symptoms.
Care home residents and staff will also be able to access tests - even if they do not have symptoms, as well as asymptomatic NHS patients and staff, Mr Hancock said.
Ministers have been under pressure over the death toll in care homes with more than 5,000 deaths linked to coronavirus since the start of the outbreak, according to the latest official data.
The expansion in testing also comes as the government scrambles to meet Mr Hancock's goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April.
Mr Hancock insisted the government was on track to meet the goal as it now has the capacity to carry out around 73,400 tests a day.
However he admitted the actual number of tests carried out on Monday was only 43,453, with only a few days to go before his self-imposed deadline.
Dispatch of home test kits would be expanded to 25,000 a day by the end of the week, he said, while mobile testing units manned by the army will reach more than 70 by the end of the week.
He said: "Today, because we have been able to expand capacity, I can expand access further. Building on successful pilots, we will be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England and to patients and staff in the NHS.
"This will mean anyone who is working and living in a care home will be able to have access to a test, whether they have symptoms or not."
Mr Hancock said there was also capacity for all over 65s and their households with symptoms, and for all workers who have to leave home to do their jobs.
He said: "From construction workers to emergency plumbers, from research scientists to those in manufacturing, the expansion of access to testing will protect the most vulnerable and help keep people safe.
"It's possible because we've expanded capacity for testing thus far."
Mr Hancock insisted care homes had been a "top priority" for the government as he announced plans to publish daily data on deaths in care facilities and the community, rather than just hospitals.
Professor John Newton, co-ordinator of the national testing effort, said studies had shown that the presence of symptoms was "not really a good marker in the care home setting" for coronavirus among residents and staff.
"There were significant numbers who were asymptomatic who had the virus and so we have massively increased the amount of testing available," he said.
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall welcomed the roll out of testing for care homes but warned that staff must also be given adequate protective equipment to do their jobs.
She said: “Further action is urgently required to reduce the spread of the virus and keep care users and staff safe.
"More needs to be done to ensure all care staff get the PPE they need and to ensure social care is properly funded to deal with the extra costs of the pandemic.
"The government must also introduce a strategy for intermediate care, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by people who are discharged from hospital and help struggling care homes.”