The coronavirus test will be rolled out to people working in public services such as the police, firefighters and prison staff, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Capacity is increasing “sharply”, but not as many NHS staff have come forward for testing as expected, he said.
The government said 21,328 tests were carried out on Thursday, but the capacity was at least 38,000.
Meanwhile, scientists say they should have at least a million doses of the coronavirus vaccine by September.
However, business secretary Alok Sharma said there were “no guarantees” and that it was not possible to set a date for the creation of a vaccine.
Producing one is “a colossal undertaking” and “a complex process that will take several months,” he said at the government press conference.
This is due to the fact that the UK on Thursday recorded 847 new coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals, bringing the total to 14,576.
The figure does not include the hundreds of people who have died in nursing homes and in the community.
Speaking via video link to an online meeting of the Commons health committee earlier, Hancock said the government had prioritized testing for inpatients and NHS workers before expanding it to residents and social care staff.
He added that around 50,000 NHS workers have been tested so far.
However, he said it was “frustrating” that there was a capacity for 10,000 more tests per day than those performed on Thursday.
The government has a target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of April.
Eligibility for the tests will also be extended to workers in critical local authorities, the judiciary and staff of the Ministry of Labor and Pensions, he said.
“We are able to do this because of the increased testing,” he added.
Hancock said he hoped anyone with symptoms could be tested “relatively quickly”.
“Now that we have the curve under control, I want to be able to go back to the position that we can test everyone with symptoms – and I plan to be able to do that fairly quickly because we are increasing capacity, as I said, ” he said.
Matt Wrack, secretary general of the Fire Brigades Union, welcomed the expansion of the tests.
However, he added: “It is a pity that it arrived so late, with thousands of firefighters already self-isolated – something that could have been easily avoided. “
Wrack said there are also problems with test accessibility, with many test centers outside the city.
Dame Donna Kinnair, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing, told the committee that some sick NHS workers were forced to drive for up to two hours to be tested.
Also speaking to the committee, Professor Anthony Costello, director of the Institute for Global Health at University College London, said there could be 40,000 deaths in the UK as a result of the pandemic of coronavirus.
He said the UK had been “too slow” to respond on a number of fronts to the crisis, which could lead it to “probably the highest death rate in Europe”.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, had previously said it would be a “good result” if the total death toll in the UK could be kept below 20,000.
Warning that the UK would face “new waves” of viruses, Professor Costello said that a system had to be put in place which “cannot just do a number of laboratory tests But one who reached “district and community”.
Speaking at the briefing, Sir Patrick said that there was beginning to be a “gradual decrease” in the number of coronavirus patients in London hospitals and a flattening or decreasing in other areas .
“The numbers are not just at a plateau but are starting to drop in some areas and this will translate into fewer people in intensive care in due time,” he said.
“But don’t expect it to be fast. It will not be a sudden drop, there will be a plateau – it will take some time for the numbers to go down and that is why it is important that we continue with the strong distancing measures that we have put in place. “
Sir Patrick added that he unfortunately expected the number of coronavirus-related deaths to continue to level off “for a while” before starting to decline slowly.
In other developments:
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended government leave program by one month until end of June
- Councils in England warn that coronavirus crisis is pushing them to the brink of financial failure
- Downing Street suggested not to book now as there is no certainty as to when the closure will be lifted and the trip may resume.
- The British public will not be forced to wear masks unless government scientists deem it necessary, a minister said.
- The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, has increased its death rate by 50% – or 1,290 cases – attributing it to updated reports and more deaths from outside hospitals included in the figures