Government ministers have made confusing comments on the key issue of coronavirus testing in England in recent days.
Let’s take a look.
On Sunday morning, Michael Gove was asked what proportion of NHS staff in England are currently self-isolating because of the coronavirus.
The Surrey Heath MP, one of several senior cabinet ministers leading the government’s response to the crisis, said he couldn’t “give an exact percentage” but that the number was “significant”.
In the same answer, he began to talk about increasing the rate of testing, at which point interviewer Andrew Marr interjected: “How many are being tested?”.
Mr Gove replied: “Well, we had 10,000 tests yesterday”, adding that Boots has now introduced drive-through facilities that “allow NHS workers, if they have symptoms, to get tested in real time”.
Given the context in which Mr Gove was talking – a discussion about healthcare workers in which he himself introduced the topic of testing – viewers may have been left with the impression that the “10,000 tests” figure referred to NHS staff.
But that’s not the case.
Public Health England (PHE) tweeted this morning that “NHS / PHE testing capacity for patient care stands at 10,949 a day. Latest figure for number of tests conducted is 9114.” These stats, they said, were “accurate as of 9am 28th March”.
When Mr Gove said “we had 10,000 tests yesterday”, he was talking about the number of tests on patients, not healthcare workers – though he didn’t clarify this to viewers.
So how many NHS staff have been tested this weekend for coronavirus? A Downing Street spokesperson told reporters today that the true figure for England is 900.
Testing for healthcare workers in Wales was rolled out ten days earlier than in England, and began in Scotland before then.
The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, said today that 1,000 healthcare workers had been tested in Wales since March 18. We don’t have figures from Scotland and Northern Ireland.
There was further confusion this morning as junior health minister Helen Whately sought to clarify the total number of tests taking place in England.
The Today programme’s Nick Robinson asked the MP for Faversham to explain why Michael Gove and Matt Hancock said 10,000 people had been tested when a tweet from the Department of Health put the figure at 7,000.
Ms Whately replied: “We’ve achieved the capacity to have 10,000 people a day tested; the actual number that were tested on the day in question was around 7,000”.
But it was shortly after that interview this morning that Public Health England tweeted to say testing capacity was 10,949 a day and some 9,114 test had taken place as of 28 March.
Update: 31 March: We now understand from Public Health England that the number of tests does not equate to the number of people tested.
PHE tweeted yesterday afternoon that: “Latest figure for number of tests conducted is 8,278, on 4908 individuals in England (accurate as of 9am 29th March).”
How many people are being tested for coronavirus?
On 18 March, the UK government announced that it planned to test 25,000 hospital patients a day in England within four weeks.
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, says they are on track to achieve that ambition – we’ll have to wait until mid-April to see if he’s right.
Separately, the government has also bought 3.5 million “antibody” tests, which tell users whether they have previously been infected with the novel coronavirus. We’re still waiting to see if those tests work.
This article was updated on 31 March to reflect new information.