The government has encouraged local authorities to target rapid asymptomatic testing at those who are unable to work from home during the latest national lockdown, such as construction workers.
The announcement came a week after the government allowed construction work to continue during lockdown, while COVID cases surge due to a new variant of the virus.
Rapid regular testing for people without symptoms of COVID-19 (which can be the case with one in three infected) will be made available across the country from this week (10 January), with the eligibility of the community testing programme expanded to cover all 317 local authorities.
Expansion of asymptomatic testing will identify more positive cases of COVID-19, and will ensure that those infected isolate, protecting people who cannot work from home and the country’s 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 are focusing testing critical workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons.
Additionally, 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.”
He continued: “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 is highly effective, and has already identified over 14,800 positive COVID-19 cases who would not have been identified without targeted asymptomatic testing, halting 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.