Dominic Raab has promised an “exponential” increase in coronavirus tests in the next eight days.
The foreign secretary, who is standing in for Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, insisted the government would meet its target of 100,000 a day by the end of April.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked how this was possible given only 18,000 tests a day were currently being done.
He said frontline NHS staff and care workers were “desperate” for tests.
It comes as new figures suggest the number of people recorded as having died of Covid-19 in care homes in England could have doubled in five days.
Mr Raab and Sir Keir were both present in the sparsely populated Commons chamber for the first “virtual PMQs”, with most MPs asking questions from home through video conferencing technology.
Sir Keir, who was making his debut at the despatch box as Labour leader, said the UK has been “very slow and way behind other European countries” when it comes to coronavirus testing.
“All week we have heard from the front line, from care workers who are frankly desperate for tests,” he told Mr Raab, and he asked why the government was not using all the tests that are available.
Mr Raab said the government had testing capacity of 40,000 a day and, based on that, and the fact that new laboratories were coming on stream, it would meet its target.
“In the final week it will require a big increase,” he told MPs.
Sir Keir said many care workers were not able to get to testing centres because they were miles away and unable to use public transport because of social distancing.
“It is little wonder we are seeing these pictures of half-empty testing centres,” added the Labour leader.
Mr Raab acknowledged there were challenges, but added: “The key point is, it is important to have a target and drive towards a target.
“We are making good progress and are confident we will meet it.”
Care home deaths
It comes as new figures showed the number of people recorded as having died of Covid-19 in care homes in England could have doubled in five days.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday went up to 10 April. They showed the deaths of 1,043 people recorded as being linked to Covid 19 in England and Wales – nearly 1,000 of those deaths were in English care homes.
The care regulator for England, the Care Quality Commission, working with the ONS, is analysing data from care home providers about coronavirus-related deaths and have looked at deaths between April 10 to 15.
In a statement, they say they anticipate the number of deaths recorded in care homes in England to be double the number reported on Tuesday.
They have not published the numbers yet, but this preliminary finding would suggest in a five-day period the deaths of nearly 1,000 people in care homes in England could have been linked to Covid-19, which if confirmed would bring the overall total to about 2,000.
They also say there may be a significant increase in non-Covid-19 related deaths – in line with what the ONS official statistics suggest.
The figures will be published on 28 April, once verified.
The notifications from care providers may include some people who died in hospital. As these deaths are already reflected in NHS figures, the numbers collected by the CQC have to be adjusted and checked.
Care providers have always had to notify the CQC when a resident dies, but the forms have now been adjusted to collect information on whether a death is linked to coronavirus.