Covid: Mass testing for asymptomatic people to be rolled out

10 January 2021, 07:01 | Updated: 10 January 2021, 13:10

The government is expanding its Community Testing Programme to more people without symptoms
The government is expanding its community testing programme to more people without symptoms. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Regular rapid testing for people without Covid symptoms will be rolled out across England in the next week, the government has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said its expansion of the community testing programme to everyone without Covid-19 is "crucial given that around one in three people" who contract the virus are asymptomatic.

Councils will be encouraged to test people who are unable to work from home during the third national lockdown, which will include police officers, supermarket workers and taxi drivers.

Lateral flow tests that can give results in around half an hour will be central to the rollout, which will be "expanded to cover all 317 local authorities", DHSC said.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "With roughly a third of people who have coronavirus not showing symptoms, targeted asymptomatic testing and subsequent isolation is highly effective in breaking chains of transmission.

"Rapid, regular testing is led by local authorities who design programmes based on their in-depth knowledge of the local populations, so testing can have the greatest impact.

"We are now expanding this offer to every local authority across the country, and asking testing to be targeted on workers who cannot work from home during this national lockdown, while asking employers to work with us to scale up workforce testing.

"Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly - and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread - so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up. We must all do all we can to stop the spread of Covid, right now."

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James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "It is essential that local deployment of these additional tests are co-ordinated through directors of public health, in order to make best possible use of the flexibility and freedom this will afford them, based on their local knowledge of level and location of infection in their areas."

There are also plans to "scale up" testing in workforces.

The DHSC said: "Fifteen large employers have taken up this offer already across 64 sites, including organisations operating in the food, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors, and within the public sector including job centres, transport networks, and the military.

"An estimated 27,000 tests have taken place across the public sector as part of pilots so far."

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: "During this difficult period, it is fantastic to see so many major employers taking up the offer of rapid, regular workforce testing, and I'd encourage even more to do so as we pull together to protect our NHS and save lives."

Some 131 local authorities in England have already been signed up to the government's community testing regime, with the latest to join including Doncaster, Essex, Milton Keynes and Slough.

Plans are already in place for rapid testing of staff and students in schools and colleges and staff in primary schools, the DHSC said.

Primary schools will soon get home test kits for staff to test the workforce on a weekly basis, it added, while "secondary schools and colleges have set up test sites, and have started testing staff and students present on site during the lockdown".

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