Coronavirus latest: Infections hit new records in Russia and Iran, but vaccine news cheers markets

Harry Dempsey and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe

Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, has said that expanding coronavirus testing — including a target for regular tests for visitors at every care home in the UK — could help ensure as normal a Christmas as possible.

“We’re working with the devolved administrations to try to get a set of rules, a set of arrangements, for Christmas that can work across the whole of the UK,” said Mr Hancock in an interview with Sky News. “The expansion of testing may be able to help to deliver on that.”

On Monday, the UK government revealed plans to build two megalabs that can process 600,000 diagnostic tests a day, more than double the current capacity.
Those plans come after the government’s testing and tracing programme has been hampered by insufficient processing capacity in public labs. However, those labs will not open until early next year under government plans.

In a separate BBC interview, the health secretary said that the government aims to ensure old people can see their families at Christmas by putting regular testing for visitors in place at every UK care home by December 25. A pilot at 20 locations including Cornwall and Devon is currently being conducted.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have the testing available in every care home by Christmas to ensure people can take a test and therefore see their loved ones safely,” he said.

Mr Hancock insisted that videoconferencing services such as Zoom would help prime minister Boris Johnson work effectively. Mr Johnson is self-isolating after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for Covid-19. The health secretary defended the lack of mask wearing and the social distancing practices in Downing Street, calling it a “Covid-secure workplace”.

The health secretary was questioned on ITV’s Good Morning Breakfast why he had not resigned following a series of policy failings at the beginning of the crisis including the decision to allow events to go ahead such as the Cheltenham Festival in March.

While defending the government response, he admitted that mistakes had been made, for example surrounding the policy on funerals, which initially meant that spouses were unable to attend the funeral of their partners. “That was wrong and we have changed it”, he added.

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