Asymptomatic testing to be rolled out by councils

The Department of Health and Social Care has said that rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus will be made available across the country.

The eligibility of the community testing programme is being expanded to cover all 317 local authorities, who will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown.

Expansion of asymptomatic testing is seen as crucial as it will identify more positive cases of coronavirus and ensure those infected isolate, protecting those who cannot work from home and our vital services.

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.

The government has also announced that NHS Test and Trace will also work closely with other government departments to scale up workforce testing. 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. 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.”

James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Local knowledge and expertise has proved vital in combating Covid-19 and councils want to work with the government to develop testing strategies which contain and reduce the virus in every area of the country, and for every section of our diverse communities.

“We are pleased that all councils will receive supplies of rapid coronavirus testing kits. 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.”