Matt Hancock delivers Covid-19 briefing, 24 March 2020. Photo: Number 10 via youtube Matt Hancock delivers Covid-19 briefing, 24 March 2020. Photo: Number 10 via youtube

After a campaign of deceit and blame dodging to cover up brutal incompetence and disregard for lives, Matt Hancock must walk or be pushed, argues Shabbir Lakha

The government’s attempt to claim that it met Matt Hancock’s 100,000 tests by the end of April promise is one of the most obvious lies since the crisis began. Hancock said on Friday that on the last day of April, 122,000 tests were ‘provided’. There are two gaping holes in this claim:

1The government suddenly decided to start counting tests that have been delivered or posted in the figures. 40,000 home testing kits and tests sent to homes and health institutions by Royal Mail and Amazon have been included in the figure even though they are not completed tests.

2A huge proportion of people tested in hospitals and drive through centres have had to be retested and these have been counted a second time. On Wednesday up to 50% of the 54,000 people tested were counted more than once, and on Thursday up to 30% of the 80,000 tests actually conducted.

This cynical manipulation of figures shows just how desperate the government is to save face after repeated failures. The government’s first target of 10,000 daily tests on 11 March which kept being promised as imminent was only met at the beginning of April – when Hancock then announced the 100,000 target.

It’s not just that the precise target that the government set wasn’t met, it’s that the whole thing is a sham. When the government promised 100,000 tests by the end of April which it now says was “ambitious”, Germany had already surpassed 100,000 tests a day. The weekend prior to that commitment, it was revealed that Boris Johnson had sent a letter begging private research institutions to borrow their testing equipment.

The promise itself only came after Hancock was caught out lying about shortages in the chemical reagents needed for testing to mask the outright failure to procure tests despite the UK being the first to develop the test, and evidence of companies producing testing kits being ignored when they offered their services to the government.

What these repeated failures show is that the government’s priorities have never been about protecting people. Until eligibility for tests changed in the last few days to boost the numbers, very few people other than symptomatic key workers were eligible to get tested, and a particular focus on self-isolating NHS workers. The NHS workers actually working in Covid wards had no such luck. It stands completely at odds to the very first priority that the WHO stated: test, test, test.

The lack of testing has rendered Britain’s data on how many people have been infected by the disease completely useless. By extension, this also means deaths outside hospitals which now make up as much as 50% of all Covid-related deaths are a likely underestimate.

This is especially poignant as the government says we are past the peak and is looking to lift the lockdown as soon as possible. Without properly established and reliable mass testing and contact tracing – at least – lifting lockdown restrictions is not safe.

Matt Hancock’s tenure as Health Secretary is mired with the consistent failures on testing, on ventilators and on PPE needed by health and care workers. His actions have contributed to Britain now having one of the highest per capital death tolls in the world and the huge numbers of NHS and care workers infected and dying. He should be forced to resign immediately.

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Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.

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