The government says it has surpassed its target of carrying out 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of April.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 122,347 people were tested for COVID-19 yesterday – but until now the figures have only included tests that had reached labs.
The latest figures also include tests that have been sent out to homes and testing sites.
A total of 27,497 home kits were delivered yesterday, while a further 12,872 tests were carried out in satellite locations.
So – if the government had continued announcing this total in the same way as it had each day for the past month, the final figure in yesterday’s tally would have reached 81,978 tests, and it wouldn’t have met its target.
Coronavirus: Infection numbers in real time
The government had set itself the target to be met by the last day of April, but the actual outcome could not be revealed until a day later, due to a lag in reporting results.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Friday, Mr Hancock said the figures marked an “incredible achievement”, and added that it would serve as help to “unlock” the lockdown.
He said the “next mission” would be to “test, track and trace” cases of the illness in order to work towards “liberty”.
“With this next mission of test, track and trace, I’m seeking a solution that allows us, by each of us participating, to target the measures that are needed with much more precision and so to reassert, as much as is safely possible, the liberty of us all,” Mr Hancock said.
“That is our next mission. But for now the most important thing for everyone to do to keep R [rate of transmission] down and to get us all through is to retain the spirit and resolve that has had such an impact thus far.”
In response to a question from Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates about the tests included in Thursday’s figure, Mr Hancock said: “We set out on GOV.UK how we count the different types of tests for different reasons because home tests are produced in a different way to the tests at drive-through centres.
“In total, over the entire testing programme since the test was invented, we have done over a million tests now. So that’s another benchmark we’ve managed to reach.”
National testing co-ordinator professor John Newton said there was “no change” to the way tests had been counted, adding that the testing programme tallied up tests “inside the programme” – the ones in the labs, when they are carried out.
Tests “outside the programme” – the at-home tests and tests at satellite centres – are tallied up as they are sent out.
In the 24-hour period to 9am on Thursday, a total of 81,611 tests had been carried out against a capacity of 86,500 tests.
Thursday’s total therefore marked a rise of 40,736 tests.
It comes after a further 739 people were confirmed to have died with the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths in hospitals, care homes and at home to 27,510.
Meanwhile, a total of 6,201 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, bringing the total number of infections to 177,454.
Earlier on Friday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News he believed the government had “succeeded” with its aim, regardless of whether the test target had been met as it would have “galvanised people across government”.
He said: “In that sense the target will have succeeded because it will have galvanised people across government, in the private sector and across the country to build the network that we needed to, which is the foundation of testing, tracking and tracing, which we need in the next phase of fighting the virus.
“This in itself is just a stepping stone.”
But shadow health minister Justin Madders said that while he was rooting for the government’s strategy to be successful, he was critical of “moving the goalposts” when counting the tests.
He said: “We want the government’s test, isolate and trace strategy to succeed and welcomed expanding who was eligible to get a test, but counting a test put in the post is not the same as a conducted test and getting results.
“Ministers should focus on making sure these tests are administered effectively rather than moving the goalposts to hit their own arbitrary target.”
We’ve wanted to see more testing. But a big figure is not a strategy. We need fundamentals of infectious disease control in place – finding cases, contact tracing and isolation.
And ministers should have been honest. Promise was UK would *carry out* tests not just post them out. https://t.co/SHsjZ3c5KU
— Jonathan Ashworth (@JonAshworth) May 1, 2020
Greater coronavirus testing capability is one of the five criteria the government has said must be reached before it will consider an easing of the lockdown, which is set to enter its seventh week on Monday.
Other goals that must be reached include seeing a consistent decline in the daily number of deaths and new infections; enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to cater for demand, and confidence that a second peak can be avoided.
In his first coronavirus press conference since recovering from the illness himself, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK had passed the peak of the virus, and promised he would reveal a comprehensive plan for the exit strategy next week.