Rapid, twice-weekly COVID tests to be offered to everyone in England
Written by Hitmix News on 5 April 2021
Free, rapid twice-weekly COVID-19 testing for everyone in England is being promised by the government – starting this Friday.
It is aimed at people without symptoms, because one in three people with coronavirus don’t have them and may be spreading the virus unwittingly.
The government says the offer is currently for England only and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions.
A major marketing campaign encouraging people to take up the offer of twice-weekly lateral flow tests will also start in England this Friday.
Tests will be available through:
• A home ordering service, which allows people to order lateral flow tests online to be delivered to their home
• Workplace testing programmes, on-site or at home
• Community testing, offered by all local authorities
• Collection at a local PCR test sites during specific test collection time windows
• Testing on-site at schools and colleges
A new “Pharmacy Collect” service will be another option. People over 18 without symptoms will be able to visit a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of seven rapid tests to use twice a week at home.
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The prime minister says the tests will “stop outbreaks in their tracks”, but Labour says they need to be backed up by financial support so sick people can isolate.
The programme is effectively the long-delayed “Operation Moonshot” of 10 million COVID tests a day, costing an estimated £100bn, promised by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last summer.
When he told the Commons it would start as early as December, MPs laughed, prompting Mr Hancock to brand them “nay-sayers” and telling them to “get with the programme”.
Now the government says that alongside vaccination, regular COVID-19 testing will be an essential part of easing lockdown restrictions and help quickly suppress the spread of variants.
It comes after the UK recorded its lowest number of new positive cases since September on Easter Sunday, while deaths came in at 10 for the second day running.
The total number of first vaccinations has now reached 31,523,010, while second jabs have risen to 5,381,745.
Boris Johnson said not carrying out regular testing risks “wasting” progress made by the vaccine rollout ahead of Monday’s Downing Street news conference on jab passports and “traffic lights” for international travel.
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“That’s why we’re now rolling out free rapid tests to everyone across England – helping us to stop outbreaks in their tracks, so we can get back to seeing the people we love and doing the things we enjoy.”
But some medical experts are sceptical.
Sian Taylor-Phillips, professor of population health at the University of Warwick, told Sky News: “We don’t know how well lateral flow tests work in terms of accuracy in people’s homes.
“So when people are doing the test unsupervised we don’t know if it will still be as effective. We know that swabbing technique is really important but we don’t know how well people can do that in their own homes.
“The really critical thing we don’t know is what effect is has on the transmission of coronavirus.
“The Liverpool pilot of this happened at the same time as lockdown (back in November), so the number of cases did go down. But we didn’t have any comparison to a no-testing area, so we really don’t know what contribution it makes or doesn’t make.”
Image: Mobile testing units will continue to operate managed by local authorities
So far, rapid testing has been available to those most at risk and people who need to leave home for work, including frontline NHS workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families.
Now rapid testing will be offered to everyone, with people encouraged to take regular tests to help prevent outbreaks and help the population reclaim a more normal way of life.
The offer of free testing is now being expanded to companies with over 10 workers where on-site testing is impossible.
The government says over 100,000 businesses in England have already registered their interest to provide rapid tests to their employees.
Announcing the programme, Mr Hancock said that “reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly”.
And Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England added: “Rapid testing helps us find COVID-19 cases that we wouldn’t otherwise know about, helping to break chains of transmission.
“I encourage everyone to take up the offer of these free rapid tests – they are quick and easy to carry out in your own home.”
Image: Matt Hancock says regular testing will be ‘fundamental’ to easing lockdown safely. Pic: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “To suppress infections, testing must go hand-in-hand with community public health led contact tracing to find cases and must be backed up by decent financial support.
“People who are sick with COVID are still forced to choose between self-isolation or feeding their families.
“Lack of adequate sick pay and support remains a dangerous hole in our defences against this horrific virus.”
At his Downing Street news conference later, the prime minister will confirm that the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England is on schedule, with outdoor pubs and restaurants, non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers allowed to open from next Monday.
Hairdressers and non-essential shops are reopening a week earlier in Scotland, where university and college students can return to in-person teaching and outdoor sports can resume for 12 to 17-year-olds from today.
Mr Johnson will also outline his plans for vaccine passports for major events, including cup finals, and a traffic light quarantine system for overseas travellers.
But he is already facing the threat of a major Conservative backbench rebellion over his plans for COVID passports and has been forced to assure Tory MPs that they will be time-limited, probably for no more than a year.