The Prime Minister promised the testing regime could help local authorities work towards reducing their risk level before Christmas.
And on Thursday he even suggested negative tests could be used to allow families more freedom, even in areas with heightened restrictions.
But today Ministers admit the scale of the operation means some areas might get the tests before others.
Here’s a round up of some of the times Boris Johnson’s promises of light at the end of the tunnel have been premature.
19 March: ‘Send it packing’ in 12 weeks
Just days before being admitted to hospital with Covid-19, the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference the virus would be fading within 12 weeks. He said he was “absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country”
Reality: Some 36 weeks later, England is in a second lockdown and about to enter a second phase of tiered restrictions – with 99% of the country rated high or very high risk.
21 May: Antibody test ‘game-changer’
The PM said new antibody tests could be the “game-changer”, allowing more freedom to people who have previously had the virus.
Reality : The following month, scientists noted not enough was known about the level of protection antibodies would provide about immunity to the virus. It’s still unclear what level of protection is provided by antibodies, or how long it lasts. While they’re useful to survey how many people have had the virus, they’re not the ‘freedom pass’ that was promised.
17 July: ”Return to normality’ by Christmas
Boris Johnson announced a relaxation of restrictions, saying he hoped they would lead to a “more significant return to normality” by Christmas.
Reality : Some 99% of the country will be in Tiers 2 and 3, with much stricter rules than in July, until at least December 16 to cope with a second spike in infections. While families will get a five day “break” from household mixing rules over Christmas, there’s no indication of any relaxation of the rules until a vaccine can be distributed.
9 September: Moonshot ‘alternative plan’ to return to normal by Christmas
Boris Johnson announced his “moonshot” plan for mass rapid testing, an “alternative plan” which he hoped “could allow life to return to closer to normality” by Christmas. He suggested they would allow people more freedom to attend events or return to workplaces if they had a recent negative test.
Reality : Mass rapid testing pilot schemes have seen positive results, but the PM says there have been issues “getting everyone mobilised”.
23 November: “Things will look and feel very different after Easter”
In his most recent promise of hope, the PM said this week: “I really am assured now that thing will look and feel very different after Easter…That idea of an end goal date is important because if the promise if a vaccine is fulfilled we have something to work for and a goal around which businesses can plan.”