British PM Johnson demands more testing to defeat the coronavirus outbreak

Reuters , Thursday 2 Apr 2020

Boris Johnson
FILE PHOTO: Boris Johnson speaks after being announced as Britain's next Prime Minister at The Queen Elizabeth II centre in London, Britain July 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to ramp up testing for coronavirus saying it was the key to defeating the outbreak after his government faced criticism for testing much fewer people than some of its European peers.

Britain, which initially took a much more restrained approach to the coronavirus outbreak, has faced widespread criticism that it was carrying out far too few tests, particularly for front line staff in the National Health Service.

"We're also massively increasing testing," Johnson said in a video message from a flat in Downing Street where he is self-isolating after testing positive himself. "I want to say a special word about testing because it is so important.

"As I have said for weeks and weeks, this is the way through: this is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle, this is how we will defeat it in the end," Johnson said.

While Germany has been testing about 500,000 people a week, Britain's current capacity is just about 12,750 a day, a figure the government said it was aiming to double by mid-April.

"What we need to do is massively ramp up not just tests so that you can know whether you have had the disease in the past - so-called antibody tests - so that will enable you to go to work in the confidence that you can't be infected or infectious," Johnson said.

"Second, people need to know whether they haven't got it rather than isolating themselves at home for no reason, and that's very, very important above all for our NHS staff," he said.

As of 0800 GMT on April 1, 152,979 people in the United Kingdom have been tested, of which 29,474 were confirmed positive. As of 1700 on March 31, 2,352 people in the United Kingdom who tested positive have died.

Ministers have suggested that shortages of necessary chemicals had been a factor, although the industry has said it necessary reagents are being manufactured and delivered to the NHS.

It has led to accusations that Britain, whose initial approach to the countering the virus abruptly changed after modelling showed a quarter of a million people in the United Kingdom could perish leading to more stringent measures, had been too slow to prepare for the outbreak.

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