Matt Hancock has declared that the government has surpassed its target to have the capacity for 200,000 daily tests by the end of May.
As lockdown restrictions are eased, the safety of the population increasingly hinges upon the government’s ability to test and contact-trace infected individuals.
But the Department for Health and Social Care has repeatedly failed to provide a daily testing figure in May, an omission which No 10 has been unable to explain.
While the number of people tested remains unclear, the highest known daily total was 80,297 on 21 May.
The health secretary revealed on Monday that capacity is now at 206,000, however this includes at least 40,000 antibody tests, which were counted towards the target after hospitals were instructed to start using them on Friday.
The largest number of tests given on a single day was 164,757 on 19 May, with the most recent total at the time of writing on 31 May being less than 130,000.
As a result, the health secretary has urged the nation to “take [their] responsibilities seriously”, urging anyone with symptoms to immediately order a test either on the NHS website or by dialling 119.
The government has acknowledged that large-scale testing and contact tracing will be vital to ending the lockdown, having promised in the earlier stages of the pandemic to eventually deliver 250,000 tests a day.
After the government declared it had met its initial goal of providing 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April – a claim contested amid accusations of data manipulation – a new target for May was set.
This pledge was then watered down, with Downing Street stressing that the 200,000 target set by the PM related only to testing capacity and not to the number of tests actually carried out.
Under the latest government guidelines, anyone displaying symptoms of Covid-19 is able to get tested for the virus.
The UK has performed fewer tests relative to its population than other badly affected countries, like Italy and Spain, and the government has been accused of being too slow to ramp up testing as the crisis loomed.
Reuters has previously reported that, after developing a test for coronavirus in early January, health officials adopted a centralised approach to its deployment, initially assigning a single public laboratory in north London to perform the tests.
But, according to later government statements, there was no wider plan envisaged to make use of hundreds of laboratories across the country, both public and private, that could have been recruited.