As part of the wider efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, asymptomatic testing offer is being rolled out across England from this week.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) says the offer has been expanded across the country after the eligibility of the community testing programme broadened to cover all 314 lower-tier local authorities.
Local authorities will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown.
“Expansion of asymptomatic testing will identify more positive cases of Covid-19 and ensure those infected isolate, protecting those who cannot work from home and our vital services,” the DH said. This programme is seen as being crucial as data have shown that around a third of the 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.
“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.”
Lateral flow tests used by the government go through a rigorous evaluation by the country’s leading scientists. This means they are accurate, reliable and successfully identify those with Covid-19 who don’t show symptoms and could pass on the virus without realising. Lateral flow tests can return results within 30 minutes, without needing to be sent to a lab.