Covid mass testing to be rolled out to all care homes 'by Christmas', says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock speaking on GMB on Monday morning. Credit: ITV/GMB

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said he hopes to roll out mass Covid-19 testing across the UK's care homes by Christmas as he admitted the government had made mistakes in their coronavirus pandemic response. Speaking on Good Morning Britain - the first government minister to appear on the ITV show in 201 days - Mr Hancock admitted testing was the key to allow people to see their loved ones. A pilot is currently taking place in 20 homes, but Mr Hancock said he wanted to ensure all the protocols were in place before it was introduced across the country. "I feel so strongly about this, that the testing capacity we have isn't just some abstract thing, it means that people can see their loved ones," Mr Hancock told presenters Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan. Asked by Susanna Reid why, in that case, the scheme was not being introduced in every care home, Mr Hancock replied: "That's what we're going to do, and I hope to have that done by Christmas.

"But the reason why we're doing this carefully is because we have to protect people in care homes as well. "So we're doing the pilot to understand what the rules should be around testing, how we can do it safely and then we will roll it out over the next few weeks. "But I'd rather take a few weeks now to get those protocols right, so we know actually how to do it, so that we don't have this choice between keeping people safe from coronavirus on the one hand and allowing visitors on the other." He added: “It’s about how to do it safely in all 16,000 care homes which is a very large number and making sure we can do it in all different settings. It’s so important.” 

Mr Hancock defended the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite the UK having Europe's highest death toll from the virus and several U-turns, but admitted mistakes had been made.

Asked by Piers Morgan why he was still Health Secretary, Mr Hancock said: "Because we’ve been building the response to all of these enormous challenges of this unprecedented pandemic, I’ll just pick out a few off that long list. The first thing is on testing.

"We’ve hit each of the targets that I’ve set - half a million tests a day capacity now and I’m here to tell you we’re going to double that over the next few months and that means we can use testing in order to find where the virus is and crucially can get the results back faster and isolate if needed."Mr Hancock added: “Of course we’ve made mistakes, absolutely. I’ll give you one that really matters. When we first put out the guidance for funerals in the first peak, it was interpreted as being so tight that even your spouse couldn’t go to the funeral of someone who died of coronavirus. That was wrong and we changed. Absolutely we’ve been learning.” 

The government has come under fire for not closing the UK's border earlier in the pandemic and allowing people to fly in from Covid-hit countries.

Mr Hancock said the government had not now "brought in the strict controls".

Challenged on quarantine being introduced too late, the Health Secretary said the nature of the virus had hindered the government's response.

He said: “One of the problems with the disease that we learnt about is that is passes on asymptomatically, whereas most coronaviruses passed on only when people had the symptoms and that has a big implication, because instead of just watching out for people who have symptoms, we need to be careful every single person can pass it on even if they don’t have symptoms."