Updated: Jan 11
Local authorities will be encouraged to target coronavirus testing for people like supermarket workers, taxi drivers and others who cannot work from home during lockdown.
According to the Government around 1 in 3 people have COVID-19 without displaying any symptoms.
As a result the Department for Health and Social Care have announced that rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of coronavirus will be made available across the country from this week, with the eligibility of the community testing programme expanded to cover all 317 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 local 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.
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.”
Targeted, regular community testing using lateral flow tests has already identified over 14,800 positive COVID-19 cases who would not have been identified without targeted asymptomatic testing, breaking chains of transmission in the community.
This latest expansion of the testing programme builds on the millions of asymptomatic critical workers being tested every week, such as NHS patient-facing staff and care home staff. Existing plans for the rapid testing of staff and students in secondary schools and colleges, and staff in primary schools, also remain in place.
Secondary schools have set up testing sites and have started to test staff and pupils who remain in school, such as the children of critical workers, or vulnerable children. Primary schools will start to receive their test kits shortly for the weekly testing of their staff.
Lateral flow tests can return results within 30 minutes, without needing to be sent to a lab.
Milton Keynes Director of Public Health Vicky Head said: “In Milton Keynes our transmission rates are serious and there’s no single hotspot or outbreak locally that’s driving this – it’s general person to person transmission that we can all help to control. One in 3 people with COVID-19 have no symptoms and could be spreading it without realising it.
“Our pilot for frontline key workers is intended to help break transmission by identifying people who are positive for COVID-19 without displaying typical symptoms. By doing this we can help to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, limit the number of people who might fall very ill, and protect the NHS.”