Eligibility for coronavirus testing has been extended to police, fire service, prison staff, critical local authority workers, the judiciary and DWP staff who need it, Matt Hancock has said.
The health secretary, facing a grilling from the Commons Health Committee, said he was able to extend eligibility due to test capacity "increasing" and the coronavirus curve now being "under control".
“I can today expand the eligibility for testing to police, the fire service, prison staff, critical local authority staff, the judiciary and DWP staff who need it and we’re able to do that because of the scale-up of testing," he said.
He appeared to admit there had been issues in the past with test capacity, but said "what really matters is what we’re going to do from here on in".
Testing was previously only available to patients, for surveys and for NHS and social care staff, and some that go to LRFs for local urgent need.
He said 18,665 tests had been carried out in the last 24 hours - well short of the government's target for 100,000 a day by the end of April.
The aim going forward is to "be able to get back to the position that we can test everybody with symptoms and I anticipate being able to do that relatively soon because we’re increasing capacity as I say".
Mr Hancock said that more than 50,000 NHS workers have now been tested for coronavirus.
“I can tell you that over 50,000 people that work in the NHS have now had tests,” he said.
Pushed on whether he has an estimate for the number of health workers who have been infected, he added: “No I don’t. What I have is an estimate of the proportion who are off work because they either have suspected Covid-19 or a household member does, which is a little over 8%.
“And obviously with the expansion of testing we hope to be able to get that figure down.”
Also giving evidence to the Committee was Prof Anthony Costello, chairman of global health at University College London, who warned Britain will face “further waves” of coronavirus and will probably have the highest death rate in Europe because the Government was “too slow” to act.
He said the “harsh reality” is that “we were too slow with a number of things”.
“If we’re going to suppress the chain of transmission of this virus in the next stage we all hope that the national lockdown and social distancing will bring about a large suppression of the epidemic so far – but we’re going to face further waves,” he said.
“And so we need to make sure that we have a system in place that cannot just do a certain number of tests in the laboratory, but has a system at district and community level.”
Mr Hancock was also asked about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the care sector.
He admitted the UK is “tight on gowns” but that 55,000 more are due to arrive today.
He said there had been a "Herculean effort" to deliver PPE around the country and that, as of this weekend, "1 billion items" of protective equipment would have been shipped.
it is understanding in a massive undertaking like that that there are complications and that there are challenges and I take responsibility for getting PPE out to everyone.”
After reports some health care professionals had been forced to wash and reuse PPE, Mr Hancock said "in some cases, the reuse of PPE is advised by clinicians".
“I would love to be able to wave a magic wand and have PPE fall from the sky in large quantities and be able to answer your question about when shortages will be resolved.
“But given that we have a global situation in which there is less PPE in the world than the world needs, obviously it’s going to be a huge pressure point.”
He added: “There’s nothing that I can say at this select committee that will take away the fact that we have a global challenge and we’re doing everything we can to resolve it to get that PPE to the front line.”
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know