The government had a strategy for this evening’s press conference, which differentiated it from several this week. Matt Hancock, who was himself returning from self-isolation, came with a big headline announcement: there would be 100,000 tests a day by the end of this month. He took lots of questions from journalists and allowed follow-ups which made him look like he was being frank and answering the question. It was all fairly basic stuff, but it had been missing yesterday.
There is, though, the question of whether this target of 100,000 tests a day can be met — and how far off it is. The 850,000 more claims than usual for universal credit in the past fortnight is a reminder of how long a month is in the current circumstances. A mix of 100,000 test a day is also, as Jeremy Hunt has pointed out, not yet the level that would allow a South Korean-style ‘test and trace’ for lifting the lockdown.
One thing to watch is the antibody test that the government now has. With population sampling, this should provide an estimate of what percentage of the country already has coronavirus. If that number turns out to be high, then it may offer a way out of the current situation.
Hancock, who is very much a member of what George Osborne used to call the ‘guild of professional politicians’, was also happy to provide a supplementary headline for anyone wanting one: saying that Premiership footballers should take a pay-cut given the sacrifices others, including NHS staff, were making.
The professional nature of this press conference will ease some of the pressure on the government. But the crucial question remains, what is the exit strategy? The economic—and social—damage being inflicted by this lockdown means that the government needs one urgently.