The Health Secretary has said that over 7,000 NHS staff have been tested for coronavirus, up from 5,000 in a day.
Matt Hancock announced the increase on Friday, a day after he had committed to a target of 100,000 coronavirus tests each day by the end of this month.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Hancock also said the critical care facility in the NHS has seen a boost of more than 2,500 beds since the start of the virus outbreak. “That’s before the addition we will get, before the Nightingale hospitals,” he added.
On Friday, the Health Secretary attended the opening of the NHS Nightingale hospital in east London. Similar hospitals are in the pipeline in Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Harrogate and Bristol.
However, Mr Hancock warned that coronavirus “continues its grim march”, and said he “really feels” for those families whose loved ones have died without them by their side.
He stressed that he hopes to further “ramp up” the number of NHS staff being tested “very quickly” before also increasing testing for staff in prisons, police and social care. “There’s a whole series of critical workers who I want to get these tests to as soon as possible,” he added.
On Thursday, Mr Hancock unveiled a five-point strategy for reaching 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month after the Government faced repeated criticism for being too slow on testing.
Professor Jonathan Van Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said the number of volunteers who have agreed to take part in clinical trials rose from 700 to 926 in a day. Volunteers are asked by GPs if they want to take part, and Prof Van Tam praised the “fantastic work by both clinicians and by patients”.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock said he plans to meet the 100,000 target even if antibody tests are not ready by focusing on swab tests.
The Government has ordered 17.5 million antibody tests, but the Health Secretary said: “I’ve been absolutely clear all along, we will only use them if they work.” He added that no G7 country had so far found a home antibody test that works.
Mr Hancock said swab test numbers will be increased by expanding the existing scheme within Public Health England and the NHS and encouraging private companies to “rapidly ramp up” the amount of testing they are doing.
He called on “the whole of the British life sciences industry to play their part in this national effort” and said: “Even if you weren’t a testing company before, you need to become a testing company now.”
The Health Secretary added that it is at present “impossible” to know how long someone can be immune from the virus after having it.
Meanwhile, Government sources said the 250,000 tests a day target promised by Boris Johnson remains a “wider ambition”.
Reaching 100,000 tests by the end of April is a “stepping stone” to this plan, they said, with sources close to Mr Hancock saying he is “utterly determined” to reach 100,000.
Department of Health officials were unable to offer a precise route map of how to get to 100,000 tests a day because of the complexity of organising the different public and private providers that will be helping with the tests.
Prof Van Tam said there was no plan to add loss of taste and smell to the list of symptoms people should watch for when assessing potential Covid-19, despite Mr Hancock saying he had experienced them.
“There is some anecdotal data in the published domain that there are a proportion of people who do indeed lose their sense of taste and smell,” he said.
“However, we have looked at the data there is in relation to whether that on its own is a symptom that would be important to add to the case definition, and the answer to that, from our experts, is absolutely not.”