Robert Jenrick has admitted he “doesn’t know” how many tests will be needed for the government’s mass coronavirus testing programme in Liverpool.
The government announced that Liverpool will become the first city to offer its citizens coronavirus tests in a new mass testing pilot programme from Friday.
Anyone living or working in the city will be available to get a test whether or not they have symptoms in a programme which Boris Johnson has described as having “the potential” to be a powerful, new way to fight against Covid-19 infection rates.
This comes as the Department of Health and Social Care unveiled plans to roll out half a million rapid turnaround tests.
When pressed on LBC radio regarding how many swabs would be available, the minister replied: “I don’t know the exact number, but we don’t have any reason to believe that if you ask for a test on Thursday/Friday this week that you will have difficulty getting one.”
He went on to explain that “nationally, there are over 500,000 and this is increasing rapidly”, with that a large portion being dedicated to Liverpool.
But when the minister failed to answer a second question on testing capacity, host Nick Ferrari cut in: “Secretary of state, isn’t a bit weird that you come on promoting this government initiative… but you actually don’t know how many tests you’ll be needed?”
Jenrick replied: “Well, no, because the people who are running the programme are making those calculations.”
Ferrari laid out the maths for the minister and said that Liverpool city’s population was 500,000 and that the number of tests available “nationally” would not be enough to cover the city and the country at the same time.
He also said that on November 1 only 270,000 coronavirus tests had been processed.
Jenrick tried to assuage fears the programme was “set for failure” and that it was nothing more “grandstanding” by the government.
“We hope not and that’s not our intention,” he insisted, adding “[The success of the programme] will depend on how many people in Liverpool choose to take part in this, but we hope everyone in the city will get themselves tested and we think there will be enough capacity to do that.”
Jenrick said that four different types of tests would be available, including rapid turnaround tests that can give a result within an hour.
He also said the military would be enlisted to help and promised testing would be “fast” and enable the government to “get control of the virus”.
If successful, Downing Street hopes to roll out the scheme across parts of the country.