Everyone in England will be offered free, twice-weekly rapid coronavirus testing, the Government has announced.
Regular testing is seen by government ministers as a key tool in allowing the re-opening of society and the economy, and in helping to tackle any new variants of the COVID-19 virus.
From 9 April, members of the public will be encouraged to take two rapid lateral flow tests a week (LFDs) even if they don’t have coronavirus symptoms. Lateral flow tests can usually be self-administered at home or in workplaces. They have so far been used in settings such as care homes, schools and universities and usually return a test result in 30 minutes.
According to Government figures, around one in 3 people with COVID-19 do not experience any symptoms and therefore may be spreading the virus unknowingly. It is hoped that the universal rollout of testing will allow more cases to be detected in order to save more lives.
The universal rapid-testing rollout comes after Boris Johnson first announced plans for a mass-testing programme dubbed ‘Operation Moonshot’ last summer.
Announcing the rollout of twice-weekly rapid testing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;
“Massive efforts have been made by the British public to stop the spread of the virus.
“As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our roadmap to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.
“That’s why we’re now rolling out free rapid tests to everyone across England – helping us to stop outbreaks in their tracks, so we can get back to seeing the people we love and doing the things we enjoy.”
Members of the public across England will be able to access the rapid testing from a variety of locations. A new home ordering service to allow people to order lateral flow tests will be launched, while collection will also be possible at local PCR test sites during specified collection times. Tests are also to be offered by local authorities, in schools and colleges, and through a growing number of workplaces.
In addition, a ‘Pharmacy Collect’ service will be launched to allow people aged 18 or over without symptoms of the virus to visit a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of 7 rapid tests to use twice a week at home.
Lateral flow tests are only for people without symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms should book a PCR (lab-based) test online or call 119. Anyone who tests positive on a lateral flow test should order a PCR test to confirm the result.
In the past, questions have been asked about the strength of lateral-flow tests, though the Government has defended them by saying that according to analysis from NHS Test and Trace, there is less than 1 false-positive result given for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out.
Labour have welcomed the news of the increased testing, but have called on the Government to offer more support for people that test positive, noting that not everybody is eligible for financial support when they need to self-isolate.
The twice-weekly rapid testing offer will currently only be available for people living in England, though the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may follow in implementing similar schemes.