Boris Johnson announced major Covid testing programmes for all areas in England that are forced into the highest tier of restrictions in December.
The Prime Minister’s pledge follows the recent news that England will revert back to its original three tier regional system, following the end of national lockdown on 2 December. Areas placed into the most restrictive Tier 3 are expected to get rapid testing.
Mr Johnson outlined details of his ‘Covid winter plan’ in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday (23 November), which includes an extension of the mass testing programme conducted in Liverpool.
This pilot detected 700 Covid cases that would otherwise not have been traced during the 10 day period, according to Public Health England director, Dr Susan Hopkins.
Mr Johnson said a “very substantial fall in infections” has occurred in Liverpool since more than 200,000 people took part in community testing.
Speaking to MPs, he said: “Together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic armed forces, we will now launch a major community testing programme offering all local authorities in Tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing.
“The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative.
“Those towns and regions which engage in community testing will have a much greater chance of easing the rules, the tiering they currently endure.”
Targeted testing will be implemented in Tier 3l areas, with military support, using lateral flow tests that can produce results in as little as 30 minutes.
Mr Johnson also announced a trial of daily testing for close contacts of those who test positive for Covid-19 to prevent them from having to isolate. The contacts will have the opportunity to be tested every day for a week and will not have to quarantine for 14 days, unless they test positive.
He said: “Beginning in Liverpool later this week, contacts who are tested every day for a week will only need to isolate if they themselves test positive.
“If successful, this approach will be extended across the health system next month and to the whole of England from January.”Work is ongoing to allow Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to benefit from these advances, Mr Johnson added.
When will rapid testing be rolled out?
Downing Street said the extended pilot will begin in Liverpool on 23 November. If it proves successful, a wider rollout is planned across the NHS and in care homes during December, before being introduced nationwide from January.
The plans are backed by an extra £7 billion, taking the overall funding given to the test and trace scheme this year to £22 billion.
Additional testing plans include providing weekly tests for all staff working in food manufacturing, prisons, and the vaccine programme from next month.