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Asymptomatic testing to be rolled out

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Written by: Emma Lunn
11/01/2021
Community testing will be expanded across all local authorities in England to test people without coronavirus symptoms.

Rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus will be made available across the country from this week. Local authorities will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown.

The moves comes as the government tightens border controls in an attempt to keep new strains of Covid-19 out of the UK. Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Friday that all international arrivals in England, including UK nationals, will be required to present a negative Covid test taken up to 72 hours before departure.

The expansion of asymptomatic testing will identify more positive cases of Covid-19 and ensure those infected isolate, protecting those who can’t work from home. The government says this programme is crucial given that about one in three people have coronavirus without displaying any symptoms.

So far, 131 local authorities have signed up to community testing, with 107 already having started testing in their communities. Many of these, including Essex and Milton Keynes, are focusing on the testing of critical workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons.

In addition to local authorities, NHS Test and Trace will also work closely with other government departments to scale up workforce testing.

Many are already piloting regular workforce testing, with 15 large employers having 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.

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.”

The government says lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly so it is encouraging employers and workers to take this offer up.

Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy, said: “Octopus Energy is delighted to be among the first companies to join the pilot to support the government in ramping up mass testing, helping to curb the spread of the virus and paving the way back to a life as normal as possible under the current conditions. We started testing in December and it was so well received by our staff that we’re continuing it this year.”

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