© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chessington

LONDON (Reuters) – A website for essential workers in Britain applying to get a test for COVID-19 said on Friday it was closed for new applicants just hours after the government widened the number of people eligible for its testing programme.

Health minister Matt Hancock said Friday’s launch of the new online booking system to an increased number of essential workers, including people such as teachers and delivery drivers, was part of efforts to boost Britain’s testing programme to reach his target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.

The government has been criticised by some health workers and scientists for failing to move quickly enough to increase its testing programme, with some essential workers staying at home with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19.

“There has been significant demand for booking tests today. We apologise for any inconvenience. We are continuing to rapidly increase availability. More tests will be available tomorrow,” the health ministry said on Twitter.

Some 23,560 tests were carried out on April 22 – the latest day for which data is publicly available, and Hancock said on Thursday that Britain now had a testing capacity of 51,000.

Hancock told the BBC fewer people had been coming forward for testing because of the complexity of the previous booking process.

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