BORIS Johnson has been accused of fiddling the figures after the UK Government announced that it had met and far exceeded its target of achieving 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April.

At the daily Downing St press conference, Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, hailed the achievement as “incredible” and declared that performing 122,347 tests – a rise of roughly 50 per cent in just 24 hours – would help “unlock” the lockdown.

But questions were swiftly raised over how the tests had been counted with changes in the last few days meaning that newer home test kits were simply counted as they were sent out.

The overall total also included tests dispatched to "satellite testing locations" - such as hospitals that have a particularly urgent need - but did not detail whether the tests had actually been used.

Taken together these two groups of tests accounted for more than 40,000 of the overall total.

Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing tzar, insisted there had been "no change" to the methodology but said advice had been sought on counting as "new ways of delivering tests" were brought in.

He declared: "There has been no change to the way that tests are counted. As we've developed new ways of delivering tests, we've taken advice from officials as to how this should be counted.

"So, the tests that are within the control of the programme, which is the great majority, are counted when the tests are undertaken in our laboratories.

"But,” Prof Newton explained, “any test, which goes outside the control of the programme, they're counted when they leave the programme, so that is the tests that are mailed out to people at home and the tests which go out in the satellite.

"So that is the way they are counted, have always been counted, and the way we were advised to count them by officials."

Prof Newton said some 27,497 kits sent out to homes were included in the total alongside 12,872 tests delivered to satellite locations.

Guidance on the Government website appears to have changed on April 28 to include wording saying home tests and satellite tests were being included in the testing programme.

However, Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Labour has repeatedly called for more testing and increasing testing is an important milestone.

“But many would have expected the 100,000 promise to have been met by actually carrying out testing, not simply because 39,000 kits had been mailed out.

“Tonight’s headline figure shouldn’t count tests that hadn’t been used, or indeed, might never be used as a completed test. Ministers promised transparency; the public and NHS staff deserve clarity.”

He added: “In any event, this figure was never a strategy. We need a fully resourced testing, isolation and tracing programme and ministers should be using this lockdown time to put the fundamentals of infectious disease control in place.”

Sir Ed Davey for the Liberal Democrats said: "The Health Secretary's arbitrary target of 100,000 tests by the end of April was always a hostage to fortune, and the truth is, he missed it.

“It’s extremely disappointing the Government have decided to massage the metrics rather than admit they fell short, as this will only undermine public confidence.”

He went on: "Everyone wants the country to succeed in beating this awful disease but the British public won’t be so easily fooled by manipulation.

“It's deeply regrettable but we're still miles off the large-scale testing programme that will be an essential part of any plan to ease out of lockdown through a test, trace and isolate approach.”

The London MP added: "Liberal Democrats have long-called for the Government to be frank about what is and is not achievable, to ensure transparency and maintain public trust but ministers continue to play fast and loose with the truth."

The row came as the latest UK figures showed 27,510 people had now died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 739 on the day before.

The death toll rose as:

*the PM is not expected to announce any changes to the lockdown measures before next Thursday, the deadline to renew restrictions;

*Ryanair said up to 3,000 jobs could be lost at the airline while unpaid leave and pay cuts of up to 20% were also proposed;

*the head of the Royal College of GPs said half of consultations with patients could move online while urgent cancer referrals had seen a 62% drop and

*Suggestions were made that the Isle of Wight would become the first test and contact tracing pilot area next week with speculation the Scottish islands could follow later in the month

At the No 10 press conference, Mr Hancock said the next phase of dealing with Covid-19 - which will include more community testing and contact tracing - would allow the Government "to reassert, as much as is safely possible, the liberty of us all".

He explained: "In recent weeks we've had to impinge on historic liberties to protect our NHS and our loved ones and yet our goal must be freedom. Freedom from the virus, yes, and we will not lift measures until it is safe to do so.

“But also, we care about the restoration of social freedom and economic freedom too - each citizen's right to do as they please."

However, the Health Secretary said that, for now, people must stay at home while the number of cases of coronavirus was driven down further.

He pointed out that 18,000 contact tracers to track those who had come into contact with an infected person would be in place by mid-May and the numbers would be increased if necessary.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s Medical Director, said officials would be studying whether stricter measures would or would not have to continue to apply to the elderly when the lockdown was eased.

"The over-70s can be absolutely fit and healthy, it's not the case that everybody over 70 has a chronic health condition or underlying disease," he said.

"As we look's a perfectly reasonable question to say how would that work in age groups and age bands?

"Although we do know that complications and unfortunately deaths are more common in the elderly even without complications, I think that's for consideration and that's work that we will need to do as we move forward," he added.