Matt Hancock has denied that the government’s target of hitting 100,000 coronavirus tests per day was based on an “arbitrary” number.
The health secretary told the Commons science and technology committee on Tuesday that he and Boris Johnson agreed to impose the numerical target.
Hancock argued the number was based on the need to encourage a “massive ramp-up” in testing figures to help prevent coronavirus spreading faster.
“We had already had a target. The target was to get to 10,000 a day by the end of March, which we achieved,” he told MPs.
“I saw that there was a need for a massive ramp-up and I’d been trying to drive this ramp-up and by setting an explicit external goal, and by calling on wider industry as well as the organisations that were currently involved, I wanted to galvanise the system to get up to a mass scale of testing and rapidly accelerate the ramp-up.
“It’s funny because at the time, some people said you have set an arbitrary target. That is not true, the 100,000 target was chosen because that was close to our internal goal.
“Our internal projection for the end of April, when I set the 100,000 target at the start of April, was just over 100,000 tests a day.
“And I thought a round number target, a little bit lower than what was our projection, and setting it quite specifically in public, would help to galvanise the system to hit the target and I think that’s what happened.”
Figures published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 51,096 deaths involving COVID-19 had occurred in England and Wales up to 10 July, and had been registered by 18 July.
Hancock also defended the government against criticism over its coronavirus policy on Tuesday, arguing that ministers "took the best decisions" it could with the information available at the time.
Asked by chair Greg Clark if it was his view that all the right decisions had been taken at the right time, Hancock replied: "It's my view that we took the best decisions that we could, with the information that we had, at the time.
"And that people worked in the best possible interests of trying to tackle the pandemic.
"Now, hindsight in a wonderful thing, it's also a very important part of learning lessons from a crisis like this, so I'm absolutely sure that there's lessons that we can learn through this process.
"And largely because that will build on lessons that we have been learning all the way through."