Boris Johnson chairs Cabinet as government looks set to miss 100,000 coronavirus test target

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan

Boris Johnson has chaired his first Cabinet meeting since he was admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

The Prime Minister is also set to lead the government's daily coronavirus press conference, as the UK looks set to miss its coronavirus testing target.

On the day after his son was born, a Number 10 source said the prime minister will, at this evening's press conference, "give an update on the country's fight against this disease and the steps we are taking to defeat it".

But he's set to face questions over Covid-19 testing after Justice Secretary Robert Buckland suggested the target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April will be missed.

Mr Buckland told ITV News he's "confident" capacity for 100,000 tests will be reached in the "next few days".

"And I think it was right that Matt Hancock set out an ambitious aim but it doesn't stop there. We need to ramp it up even further if we're going to reach everybody who needs those tests."

The latest figures - announced by Health Secretary Hancock on Wednesday evening - show just 52,429 tests were carried out on Tuesday.

For the government to reach its target, there will need have been a huge increase of 47,571 per day in between Tuesday and Friday evening's press conference, when it will be confirmed whether the target was hit.

Labour's Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves said the government has been "too slow" on testing, which is why "we are still way off that goal" of 100,000 tests a day.

"The whole of government need to take responsibility for this and start to get thing's right because the reason this is important is the people want and need these tests.

"Tests are not being carried out at anything like the scale the government promised and the government need to get a grip and get their act together."

The Cabinet meeting comes as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said easing lockdown would not be a “flick of the switch moment”.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is also gathering on Thursday before Mr Johnson fronts the daily Downing Street press conference once again.

SAGE is looking at a selection of options for easing restrictions while still keeping the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – the number of new cases linked to a single individual – below one in order to stop it spreading exponentially.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma was reported to be set to put forward plans for an eventual “work place by work place” easing of lockdown in the coming days.

A Business Department spokesman said: “The Government has already set out five clear tests to consider before making any adjustment to its approach.

"It is only right the we work together with industry and unions to ensure workplaces are safe for both those in work now and for those going back to work as government measures develop.”

A woman walks past rainbow NHS graffiti in Newcastle. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Ms Sturgeon said she was “far from convinced” measures could be eased on the next review date of May 7.

The Scottish First Minister told ITV’s Peston: “People talk about lifting the lockdown, that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment – we’re going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual.

“I’m far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on the 7th of May we’ll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now, because the margins of manoeuvre that we’re operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.”

Mr Johnson is expected to set out further details of his coronavirus plan in public later this week.

Prior to Thursday's cabinet meeting, Downing Street said ministers would look at the “coronavirus response in general” but is not expected to make decisions on easing lockdown measures.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance also updated Cabinet on the response to coronavirus so far and the progress made in slowing the outbreak.

Secretaries of State then updated colleagues on the work their departments are doing.

The comments came after Public Health England (PHE) announced a total of 26,097 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community in the UK after contracting Covid-19.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon does not believe restrictions can be relaxed on May 7. Credit: PA

It is the first time data on the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community has been included in the Government’s daily updates.

The total reached by the new method of reporting is around 17% higher than previous data showed and includes an additional 3,811 deaths recorded since the start of the outbreak.

Of these, around 70% were outside hospital settings and around 30% were in hospital.

The change in measurement means the UK death toll is now the third highest in the world, behind the US and Italy, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.

The US has reported 58,355 deaths and Italy 27,359.

The Government pointed out other countries may report figures differently and any lag is unclear, although France and Italy also include deaths in care homes.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know