Free home Covid tests for EVERYONE: Boris Johnson will urge all Britons to take part in TWICE weekly mass screening ‘to stop outbreaks in their tracks’ and ‘get back to doing the things we enjoy’

  • Boris Johnson set to confirm April 12 relaxation of restrictions on pubs and shops
  • PM will also unveil multi-billion-pound scheme for two free Covid tests per week
  • Comes amid fears from ministers of a Covid cases surge as economy is reopened
  • Daily Covid deaths fell to just ten today – the lowest figure since September 14

Boris Johnson will today urge everybody to take two Covid tests a week to help safeguard the unlocking of the country.

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister will confirm the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from next week.

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will also be allowed a limited reopening for outdoor customers.

But ministers fear that even this cautious freeing of the economy could lead to a surge in cases that could slow the further release from lockdown, or even send it into reverse.

Today they will unveil a multi-billion-pound scheme inviting everyone in England to take two free Covid tests per week.

The fast-turnaround tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis and will be available for use at home.

Boris Johnson will today urge everybody to take two Covid tests a week to help safeguard the unlocking of the country

Today the government will unveil a multi-billion-pound scheme inviting everyone in England to take two free Covid tests per week. The fast-turnaround tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis and will be available for use at home

Writing in the Mail, Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, said twice-weekly testing could ‘help us get back to normal’

Mr Johnson last night said the huge testing programme was needed to ensure that the sacrifices made in recent months ‘are not wasted’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was vital that people take up the testing offer, adding: ‘The vaccine programme has been a shot in the arm for the whole country, but reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.’

Writing in the Mail, Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, said twice-weekly testing could ‘help us get back to normal’.

She added: ‘If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

‘That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly.’

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister will confirm the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from next week

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister will confirm the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from April 12 (stock photo)

Pubs, restaurants and cafes will also be allowed a limited reopening for outdoor customers (stock photo)

Government sources confirmed that the surge in testing was likely to lead to a rise in detected case numbers, which yesterday fell to just 2,297 – the lowest figure since September 5.

However, the move will fuel concerns among Tory MPs that any rise in cases could lead to further releases from lockdown being delayed.

Former minister Steve Baker said that even the false positives generated by tens of millions of additional tests could be enough to knock the Government’s road map off course.

Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: ‘It is now obvious that in an environment of low prevalence, mass asymptomatic testing makes false positives a real issue.’

The warning came as:

  • The PM prepared to brief the Cabinet today that the conditions have been met to allow shops, gyms and hairdressers to reopen as planned on April 12;
  • Mr Johnson will set out a new traffic light system for future foreign travel – but warn it is still too early to book a summer holiday abroad;
  • Government sources confirmed that pubs and restaurants could be released from social distancing rules earlier if they agree to operate vaccine passport schemes;
  • Daily Covid deaths fell to just ten – the lowest figure since September 14, and a reduction of more than 99 per cent since the peak in January.

Today Britain recorded a daily death toll of 10, a 47 per cent drop on last Sunday and the lowest figure since September 14. Northern Ireland and Wales’ didn’t report any deaths or cases because of delays

The Government’s official data also revealed a further 2,297 people tested positive for coronavirus today, a 40.5 per cent drop on last week

Today’s announcement introduces a universal mass testing regime for England which is likely to become part of the ‘new normal’ and remain in place for many months.

NHS and care home staff, along with millions of school children are already using fast-turnaround tests twice a week.

Q&A

What is being proposed?

Ministers want everyone in England to take a Covid test twice a week to help quickly identify any surge in cases as the economy and society are unlocked in the coming months.

How will it work?

People will be able to order so-called lateral flow tests for use at home, or get tested at work or at sites run by local councils. They are already used by millions of children following the return to school last month.

What are lateral flow tests?

These pregnancy-style tests can deliver results at home within half an hour. Like a regular test they involve taking a swab from the back of the throat and nose but the samples do not have to be sent for laboratory analysis.

Are these tests reliable?

They are not as sensitive as a standard PCR laboratory test. One study found they missed 40 per cent of asymptomatic cases. However, they perform much better at picking up cases where people have a high viral load. The Government says they have picked up 120,000 cases which would not otherwise have been identified.

What if I test positive?

People who test positive will be asked to self-isolate in the normal way, as well as providing details of their contacts to the Test and Trace service.

What about false positives?

Recent analysis by NHS Test and Trace suggests fewer than one in a thousand lateral flow tests will produce a false positive. However, anyone who does test positive will be offered a PCR test to confirm the result.

How much will this cost?

Officials were tight-lipped about the likely cost, but acknowledge it will run into billions of pounds. Lateral flow tests are much cheaper than the standard PCR ones, with some reports suggesting the Government can buy them for as little as £5 each. But if 25 million people were to test twice a week, the cost would still top £1 billion a month.

What will it cost me?

Nothing. The Government will pick up the bill for all tests.

The tests are said to have identified 120,000 cases that might not otherwise have been picked up.

Government sources said that more than 100,000 businesses have also requested test kits to run their own schemes designed to make workplaces Covid secure.

Under the new regime, which will be introduced on Friday, people will be able to request packs of test kits for home use.

Individuals will also have the opportunity to get tested at council-run sites or as part of workplace schemes.

And a new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ scheme will be introduced, allowing adults to pick up boxes of seven rapid tests.

Mr Johnson said the rollout will help stop Covid outbreaks ‘in their tracks’.

He added: ‘As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our road map to cautiously easing restrictions under way, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.’

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, urged ‘everyone’ to take up the testing offer, saying they were vital in ‘breaking the chains of transmission’.

A major new advertising campaign will be launched this week encouraging Britons to take up the tests.

Mr Hancock said that, with one in three people infected with Covid showing no symptoms, mass testing would be ‘fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks’.

The new drive will use so-called ‘lateral flow tests’ which provide on-the-spot results in the same way as a pregnancy test.

Users still have to take a swab from their nose and throat, but the results can be determined at home in half an hour, without the need for laboratory analysis.

Health sources last night said the tests produced fewer than one false positive in a thousand.

But this could still result in almost 1,000 false cases for every one million taken.

Ministers have now agreed that anyone testing positive will be offered a ‘gold standard’ PCR test to confirm the result.

New technology means these tests can also now be used to detect new variants of the virus, allowing their spread to be picked up more quickly.

The Government was unable to say how much the new scheme would cost.

But with tests thought to cost at least £5 each, take-up of 25million would generate a bill of more than £1billion a month. 

We all want a return to normality… regular tests can only help, writes DR JENNY HARRIES

The new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) launched last week with the unique mission to protect the nation’s health, both from existing hazards – such as hepatitis or radiation risks – but also from external and emerging threats.

As its first priority, it will continue the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regular, rapid testing means we are finding cases of the virus that we wouldn’t otherwise detect, which prevents transmission to families, friends and communities – and which could ultimately save lives.

Around one in three people experiences no symptoms when they contract the virus and by getting tested regularly people will rapidly break chains of transmission that could begin unwittingly.

Twice-weekly testing using lateral flow devices, commonly known as LFDs, has already protected millions of people who need to leave home for work, including frontline NHS workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families.

Regular, rapid testing means we are finding cases of the virus that we wouldn’t otherwise detect, which prevents transmission to families, friends and communities – and which could ultimately save lives, writes Dr Jenny Harries

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England.

An LFD is the testing equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop. With a rapid turnaround time of 30 minutes for a result, these swab tests can be done from the comfort of a living room and are capable of quickly giving a snap verdict on whether someone is or isn’t likely to be infectious.

Just like an experienced mechanic, people get quicker at doing the test, and get better results, the more frequently they carry them out.

Vaccines are tipping the scales in our favour but as cases, deaths and hospitalisation charts continue to fall, the importance of our testing and tracing capabilities grows.

An effective testing and tracing system is our radar for spotting new outbreaks and suppressing them and for watching out for new variants. The new variant in Kent, which rapidly increased cases across the country, is a stark reminder that viruses are shapeshifters and they mutate all the time.

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England. Pictured: A student uses a swab at a testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre

If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly. Our diagnostics system is ready for testing on a level that matches the vaccination rollout, both in scope and ambition. The UK is now a testing juggernaut.

At the most recent count we have been testing over a million people a day, genome sequencing 32,000 tests in a week, and we have traced and contacted 3.2million who have tested positive in the past year, and a further six million of their contacts.

Regular testing is a way we can all help to bring about the return of much that has been missing in all of our lives and I have every confidence people will continue to give their selfless support in this next stage, just as they have throughout this pandemic.

Dr Jenny Harries is chief executive of the UKHSA.

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