As a step forward to start lifting lockdown restrictions for all businesses, shops and restaurants, anyone will be able to access the free, rapid lateral flow tests for themselves and their families to use twice a week starting this Friday.
It is hoped the data will help scientists track and trace any new variants of coronavirus more effectively because more people getting a test will increase the ability to identify and control mutations of the deadly virus.
“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,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“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,” he said.
Rapid testing has so far been available to those most at risk and people who need to leave home for work, including frontline National Health Service (NHS) workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families.
Now rapid testing will be offered to everyone, with people encouraged to take regular tests.
“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,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“The British public have shown over the last year that they quickly adapt and always do what it is right in the interest of public health, and I know they will do their bit by getting tested regularly in the months ahead,” he said.
According to official estimates, one in three people with Covid-19 do not experience any symptoms and may be spreading the virus unwittingly.
Rapid testing detects cases quickly, meaning positive cases can isolate immediately. Since rapid testing was introduced, over 120,000 positive cases that would not have been found otherwise have already been identified by lateral flow tests – which involve a swab kit for the nose or throat.
The DHSC says that making rapid tests available to everyone, more cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives.
Over 100,000 businesses in England have already registered their interest to provide rapid tests to their employees, and the offer of free testing is being expanded to companies with over 10 workers where on-site testing is impossible.
The expanded regular testing offer for the public will be delivered through a home ordering system, at community testing sites or through collection at pharmacies.
If testing at home, individuals will need to register their results online or by calling 119. They should self-isolate if positive and order a follow up confirmatory PCR test.
“Rapid testing helps us find Covid-19 cases that we wouldn’t otherwise know about, helping to break chains of transmission. These tests are effective in detecting people that are infectious and therefore most likely to transmit infection to others. They are another tool we now have to help maintain lower infection rates,” said Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 Strategic Response Director at Public Health England (PHE) and Chief Medical Adviser to NHS Test and Trace.
Recent analysis from the NHS Test and Trace system shows that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there is less than one false positive result.
The tests detect cases with high levels of virus and are very effective in finding people who don’t have symptoms but are very likely to transmit the disease.
A government marketing campaign encouraging people to take up the offer of twice weekly rapid testing will start running from Friday.