Matt Hancock didn’t just reach his 100,000 daily testing target, he claims he overshot it considerably with 122,347 tests carried out in the 24 hours to 9am today.
It seems a significant achievement since the health secretary’s own cabinet colleagues were publicly doubting him as recently as yesterday.
Yet the real advantage of a target, as Mr Hancock admitted this evening, is it has “a galvanising effect on everyone involved. It is a mission”.
Clearly the countdown clock in the Department for Health focused the minds of civil servants.
However today’s figure does include 40,369 home testing kits and tests carried out at satellite centres, but not necessarily returned yet.
Some critics claim that is a manipulation of the statistics. People will make up their own minds, but even taking into account the accusation that numbers have been massaged, the government has managed to considerably boost its testing capacity in a matter of weeks.
As a former chief of staff to George Osborne – himself a canny strategist – Mr Hancock knows that setting an achievable aim, and then achieving it, is a well-worn political tactic.
With such a complex issue as the government’s response to COVID-19, it is a simple, binary way of allowing the public to assess competence: either you meet it, or you don’t.
The health secretary has not just burnished his own reputation but helped build confidence in the work of his colleagues.
However Mr Hancock knows that testing is now most useful as part of a ‘test, track and trace’ programme.
This would track the transmission of the virus, and trace those an infected person has had contact with. It will be vital for reducing the ‘R’ rate of reproduction, and keeping it down.
The government is now recruiting 18,000 contact tracers but the scheme is unlikely to be up and running until mid-May.
And some argue – as with much of the government’s response – all this should have happened much sooner.