Coronavirus: Mistakes made over testing but time for reflection is after pandemic, says minister

May 06, 2020

Mistakes were made over the UK's handling of coronavirus - including not scaling up testing fast enough, a senior minister has admitted. 

Security minister James Brokenshire told Sky News "clearly" there should have been more COVID-19 tests "earlier" as the country's death toll outstripped Italy's to become the worst in Europe.

He said "nobody's trying to duck away that this has been a perfect response" but insisted the "appropriate time" for reflections will come "once we are through this pandemic".

So far 29,427 people have died with coronavirus in the UK during the crisis - well past the 20,000 figure the government's chief scientific adviser said in March would be a "good result".

Quizzed on ministers' response seven weeks into lockdown, Mr Brokenshire said "clearly we would want to have had more testing earlier".

The latest stats from the Department of Health show that in the 24 hours up to 9am on Tuesday, 84,806 tests were deployed for 69,839 people.

Testing figures peaked on Friday at 122,347 - just in time to meet health secretary's self-imposed target of reaching 100,000 a day.

However, the total included home test kits sent out but not returned, including several which people were told to bin.

"We have some of the best labs in the world - what we didn't have at the time was the volume," Mr Brokenshire said, recalling back to February.

"That scaled up rapidly - with all the different drives in testing, the remote testing that has taken place.

"But we will continue to learn lessons and clearly reflect where there were challenges, where there needs to be learning and where mistakes may have been made."

He dismissed criticism that Boris Johnson talked about shaking the hands of patients he met in a hospital on the same day the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised against the practice to slow the outbreak.

The prime minister was already "taking a number of different steps at that point" and "clearly he changed his behaviour as we all have done", Mr Brokenshire added.

He explained: "There is an acknowledgement that mistakes have been made - no government is going to get everything right.

"But we will have plenty of time for searching questions, for us to reflect very firmly on the actions that were taken once we are through this pandemic.

"But our focus has to be on dealing with the immediate issues - the amazing job that our NHS continues to do and the next steps as we look towards the impact."

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