Matt Hancock thinks it's not 'meaningful' to tell us how many people have been tested for coronavirus

Matt Hancock just tried to explain why tracking how many people have been tested for coronavirus is no longer "meaningful" in a bizarre interview.

Pressed to give the number of how many people have actually been tested, rather than simply how many tests have been produced, Hancock tried to explain why releasing such a figure isn't useful.

Speaking to Dan Walker on BBC Breakfast, Hancock said:

We are publishing a huge amount of data. What I am saying is that as it was measured, the specific figure that you're asking for, it just doesn't add anything to the battle against coronavirus and it doesn't help people to know what to do at a local level. Because of the fact that we're now several months into this fight. 

The meaningful figure is how many tests are being conducted, where they're being conducted and where the positive tests results are. 

Elsewhere in the interview, Hancock sought to clarify his statement, saying:

The challenge of the measure of the number of people tested is that the way that it was measured. If you'd been tested at the start of the crisis then you wouldn't count as somebody being tested for the first time.

At the start of the crisis that was a useful measure, but now it's much less so because if someone was tested in April and is retested now, it makes no difference the fact that they were tested or not in April if they tested negative. So that measure is harder to measure meaningfully. 

The point we think Hancock is trying to make in this rather garbled response is that it doesn't matter how many people have been tested for coronavirus because people can take multiple tests.

That may be so, but it would still be useful for the public to know how many people are actually being tested in order to understand the scale of the government's testing programme. Indeed, if it turns out that lots of people have taken multiple tests, or that tests are being sent out and not taken, this would cast the government's figures as to how many tests have been provided in total in a new light.

Hancock's confusing comments are particularly bizarre given that they come at a time where the government is repeatedly emphasising the importance of testing. In fact, one of the targets Boris Johnson told parliament must be met before beginning to ease the lockdown was the widespread availability of testing.

But the government has come under repeated fire for a lack of transparency over how many people are actually being tested.

This data has not been released for five weeks. Currently government figures say that a total of 93,881 tests are being processed each day, but the column marked 'people tested' simply reads 'unavailable'.

The government appear to have exploited this loophole before.

After Matt Hancock announced on 1 May that the government had met their goal of 100,000 tests a day, it was revealed that 40,000 of these had simply been mailed out to peoples's homes and not necessarily taken.

Head of the testing programme professor John Newton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme at the time that 80,000 tests were taken in laboratories and "40,000 were dispatched".

With pubs, bars and other facilities reopening to the public on the 4 July it's crucial that we understand whether the UK's testing programme is in a fit state to keep us safe, particularly amid ongoing failures on tracking and tracing the virus.

This means releasing the figures of how many people have been tested for coronavirus and making it abundantly clear that everyone with symptoms should be applying for a test as a matter of urgency.

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