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The government’s much-lauded coronavirus testing website for essential workers ran out of capacity and had to be “closed” within minutes of opening on Friday morning.
It was a key part of the government’s strategy to meet the self-imposed target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April – despite barely having reached a fifth of that figure as of Thursday morning.
Hancock said millions of people would be able to book an appointment online for a drive-through test at a centre close to their home.
A daily allowance of 5,000 home test kits – to be posted out to people – was to be made available as part of the push, but the gov.uk/coronavirus site ran out within two minutes.
As scores of people logged on to apply for a test, a message informed them: “Currently, only drive through tests are available.”
But then, just minutes later, it appeared that nobody was able to book a test at all, as the site told them: “Coronavirus test: applications closed.”
Hancock admitted on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that the government had only finished coding the website yesterday.
The Department of Health and Social Care apologised and said because of “significant demand” it had run out of tests – but more would be available on Saturday.
Tests for key workers – which include teachers, refuse collectors and supermarket workers – can be delivered by Amazon within 24 hours or collected the next day by the Royal Mail.
Number 10 has said that the government is trusting that those applying for testing are key workers, with no eligibility checks in place for online bookings.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “As with many other aspects of the coronavirus response, we would expect the public to respond in good faith.
“That is what they have done with other aspects of the scheme, I think we’d expect it to be the same here.”
Hancock has pledged that the government will be testing 100,000 people a day by the end of April. He said at Thursday’s press conference that the programme “was all part of getting Britain back on her feet”.
“The whole process will be free,” he said, “and no one will have to pay out for the tests.”