NEARLY one million people across the UK have applied for Universal Credit since the coronavirus lockdown came into force.

Last night the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that 950,000 people had applied for the benefit since March 16. Normally, there would be around 100,000 claims over a two-week period.

Oficials stressed that not every application would be from the recently unemployed – some of the claims would be from people who are still working but on lower pay and some from people furloughed from their companies.

The SNP demanded that the Chancellor take action to support those out of work and on low pay.

The party’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Neil Gray MP said: “This staggering news highlights the huge scale of the crisis we face – and proves beyond doubt that more support is needed.

“The UK Government must listen to those of us who have been calling for welfare protections to be significantly strengthened to help people through this unprecedented emergency.”

The figures came as the UK experienced its biggest day-on-day rise in deaths so far.

Some 2352 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for the virus as of 5pm yesterday, the Department of Health said.

The updated number is up by 563 from 1789 the day before.

Boris Johnson’s Government is also coming under increasing pressure over Covid-19 testing.

Around 8000 tests per day are currently being carried out across the UK – even though ministers previously claimed a target of 10,000 tests per day had been hit.

At present, the focus is on testing patients in hospital to see if they have coronavirus. However, many scientists say it is only through widespread testing that the UK will be able to track the virus and emerge from lockdown.

The UK Government has blamed a global lack of reagents needed to carry out tests, though the chemical industry in the UK suggested there were no shortages.

Germany and South Korea have been able to carry out significantly more tests than are being conducted in the UK.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also called for an explanation on why the UK’s Covid-19 testing is lagging behind other countries.

He said: “Germany are testing half a million people a week, yet we still haven’t hit the 10,000 a day the Prime Minister promised.

“NHS staff are rightly asking if we’ve left it too late to buy the kits and chemicals we need, or whether our lab capacity is too overstretched after years of tight budgets.”

The developments come as it emerged Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is the fourth Cabinet minister to have self-isolated due to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman yesterday told a Westminster briefing more than 2000 NHS staff had now been tested, adding: “We’re very clear that we want more testing to be carried out, and that we are working with NHS England, Public Health England and others to ensure that happens.”

NHS staff have expressed frustration that they are being forced to self-isolate just as they are most needed, because tests are not available to show whether they are clear of the disease.

Some scientists have said ramping up testing in the UK will be difficult.

Stephen Baker, professor of molecular microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “There are multiple issues with setting up new diagnostic testing capacity outside of regular diagnostic laboratories.

“This is not an overnight solution. Research laboratories have different approaches, equipment and staff.”

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