Matt Hancock was laughed at by MPs while he outlined the government’s plan for “Project Moonshot” – which would see millions of people tested for coronavirus every day – in order to get “closer to normal before Christmas”.
The health secretary was giving a statement to the Commons detailing the latest coronavirus guidelines which were announced by the prime minister on Wednesday.
The prime minister also announced Project Moonshot, a hugely ambitious programme of mass testing which would allow millions to be tested daily and give them the results within 90 minutes.
It has been reported the project would cost £100bn, almost as much as NHS England’s £114bn annual budget.
The plan has been harshly criticised because the government has been struggling to meet testing demand in recent days, let alone increase daily capacity into the millions.
While outlining the project Hancock was jeered by the opposition benches, who laughed at the ambitious plan.
In response, he said: “I’ve heard the naysayers before and I’ve heard the people on the other side complain we’ll never get testing going – and they’re the same old voices.”
“They opposed 100,000 tests and did we deliver that? Yes we did.
“They’re saying what about testing in care homes, well we delivered the test to care homes earlier this week.
“They are against everything that’s needed to sort this problem for this country and they’d do far better to support their constituents and get with the programme.
“I’m looking forward to rolling out this programme and this work, which has been under way for some time already, I’m absolutely determined that we will get there.
“And if everything comes together, and if the technology comes off, it’ll be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to get closer to normal before Christmas.”
Project Moonshot aims to get life back to normal even if no vaccine is available by letting people get confirmation they did not have COVID-19 before they went to work, a football game, or the theatre for example.
The plan would rely on new tests which could provide a result within 20 to 90 minutes.
Currently, no such tests exist, but the prime minister said they were being worked on.
Before Hancock made his statement, Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he and the health secretary had agreed how best to ensure MPs were kept up to date about any changes to the coronavirus guidelines.
His comments came a day after the Sir Lindsay threatened to run Hancock “ragged” over his failure to update MPs about major changes to coronavirus restrictions.
Hancock made a Commons statement on Tuesday to update MPs about COVID-19 without mentioning the new restrictions, even though details were already being reported by that point.
Sir Lindsay suggested he would allow MPs to direct an urgent question at Hancock every sitting day in the Commons in a bid to bring the cabinet minister into line.