British PM Boris Johnson has set yet another COVID-19 testing target, saying he aims to reach a daily capacity of 200,000 by May 31 – despite failing to keep his first promise of 100,000 tests a day – provoking public dismay.
During his first PMQs in the House of Commons on Wednesday since his own coronavirus hospitalization, Johnson was pressed by Labour leader Keir Starmer as to why the number of COVID-19 tests had dropped below their 100,000-a-day threshold since the end of April.
The UK government fell short of its initial target for the third day in a row on Tuesday, with just 84,806 tests.
In his response, Johnson failed to answer the question directly, instead announcing that his government was setting themselves an increased testing target to achieve by the end of May.
We’re running at about 100,000 a day [capacity], but the ambition clearly is to get up to 200,000 a day by the end of this month and then to go even higher.
Johnson’s administration became embroiled in controversy over the validity of their COVID-19 test numbers on Friday. A report from the Health Service Journal (HSJ) alleged that UK officials had revised the way they were counting them as they scrambled to hit their rather arbitrary figure.
The prime minister’s announcement on Wednesday has instigated widespread irritation from many social media users, who appeared pretty fed up with yet another target for the media and public to obsess over.
British comedy writer and author James Felton brutally alluded to the fact that home tests sent out in the post to recipients – before being sent to laboratories – are being counted in the government’s official daily figures. He wrote: “Dear post office, just a heads up: I have a sneaky suspicion you’re going to be really f**king busy on the 31st of May.”
Others on Twitter appeared bemused at Johnson setting a higher target before consistently hitting the initial 100,000 tests-a-day pledge. Humorous gifs were posted imagining what Health Secretary Matt Hancock – who was sitting two meters away from Johnson during PMQs – was actually feeling about being set the new scaled-up challenge.
The PM’s spokesman later confirmed that the new pledge was an “operational target to have the capacity to do 200,000 tests a day” rather than 200,000 individual tests carried out.
Johnson also revealed that some of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown restrictions could be rolled back on Monday. However, the prime minister warned that it would be an “economic disaster” if relaxing the rules sparked a spike in cases. The PM’s remarks come after the UK’s coronavirus death toll moved ahead of Italy’s to make it the European country which has been hit hardest by the disease.