How the Government’s mass Covid testing plan will work

Community testing is the second pillar of the government’s coronavirus strategy, alongside vaccinations which were rolled out on Dec 8.

The Oxford vaccine will be rolled out from Jan 4 across the country under plans being drawn up by ministers, The Telegraph can reveal.

The Government is aiming for two million people to receive their first dose of either the Oxford vaccine or the Pfizer jab within a fortnight as part of a major ramping up of the inoculation programme.

Mass vaccination centres at sports stadiums and conference venues are primed to launch in the second week of January, provided the regulator approves the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine within days.

The rollout of the Oxford vaccine, which is easier to store and handle than the Pfizer jab and costs less, is likely to make it easier to reach people living in the most secluded areas of England.

Here is everything you need to know about where to get a test, and what the Government mass testing plan means for you. 

What are my options for getting a Covid-19 test in the UK?

People with coronavirus symptoms should be tested as soon as possible and stay at home.

The government urges people with symptoms not to delay being tested: “You need to get the test done in the first five days of having symptoms.”

The NHS offers a free test to check if people have the virus.

“You can have a test (swab test) to check if you have coronavirus now. You can choose to take the test at a test site near you today and get your result tomorrow [or] with a home test kit,” the NHS explains on its website.

People must be cautious and self-isolate if they suspect they have coronavirus: “If you are getting a test because you have symptoms, you and anyone you live with must stay at home (self-isolate) until you get your result.

“Anyone in your support bubble must also self-isolate until you get your result.”

What is the Government mass testing plan?

Targeted community testing is to be rolled out in 116 areas across England. This figure includes 10 additional areas which the government announced on Dec 23: Boston, Calderdale, City of Bristol, Coventry, Hartlepool, Lincoln, North Somerset, Redcar and Cleveland, South Gloucestershire, and Walshall.

Rapid-turnaround lateral flow tests will deployed in these areas in December and January.

Earlier last month Mr Hancock said a mass testing program piloted in Liverpool will be extended to 67 local authorities, largely in the north of England, with universities in areas with the highest rates to be prioritised.

The Government has ordered 100 million jabs, with 40 million due to be rolled out by March next year. Senior Government sources said that approval could come as soon as today, Dec 27 after the company submitted its final tranche of data to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Dec 21.

Easier to store, handle and more readily available than the Pfizer vaccine, the Government also intends to distribute the Oxford jab to mass vaccination centres, including sports hall, stadiums and conference centres from the second week of January.

The Oxford vaccine is also due to be administered alongside the Pfizer jab at 83 hospital hubs and 400 GPs which are already operational, with a further 200 GPs due to be online by the weekend.

Read more: Should I send my child to school with a cold?

Where will mass Covid testing take place?

  • Amber Valley
  • Bolsover
  • Chesterfield
  • Derbyshire Dales
  • North East Derbyshire
  • South Derbyshire
  • Darlington
  • Stockton-on-Tees
  • Ashford
  • Canterbury
  • Dartford
  • Dover
  • Folkestone and Hythe
  • Gravesham
  • Maidstone
  • Sevenoaks
  • Swale
  • Thanet
  • Tonbridge and Malling
  • Tunbridge Wells
  • Medway
  • Blackburn with Darwen
  • Blackpool
  • Burnley
  • Chorley
  • Fylde
  • Hyndburn
  • Lancaster
  • Pendle
  • Preston
  • Ribble Valley
  • Rossendale
  • South Ribble
  • West Lancashire
  • Wyre
  • Bolton
  • Bury
  • Manchester
  • Oldham
  • Rochdale
  • Salford
  • Stockport
  • Tameside
  • Trafford
  • Wigan
  • Barnsley
  • Bradford
  • Kirklees
  • Birmingham
  • Dudley
  • Sandwell
  • Cannock Chase
  • East Staffordshire
  • Lichfield
  • Newcastle-under-Lyme
  • South Staffordshire
  • Stafford
  • Staffordshire Moorlands
  • Tamworth
  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • North Warwickshire
  • Nuneaton and Bedworth
  • Rugby
  • Stratford-on-Avon
  • Warwick
  • Wolverhampton
  • Solihull

Where will schools mass testing take place?

Mass testing is to be rolled out in secondary schools in England from January, with pupils facing a staggered return after the holidays. Testing will be optional and will require parental consent.

Staff in secondary schools will be offered a weekly test, with daily testing offered if one of their students has tested positive. Pupils who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive will be offered daily tests for seven days. This is an improvement on the previous protocol which saw whole classes or year groups sent home in the instance of a positive case.

In north-east London, an additional 44,000 home test kits will be made available for school staff.

Fifteen mobile testing units will be deployed in or near schools in the worst-affected boroughs of the capital for staff, students and their families to be tested, the government has said.

The London boroughs receiving additional testing are:

  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Hackney and the City
  • Havering
  • Newham
  • Redbridge
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Waltham Forest 

In Essex, an additional 10 mobile testing units were deployed from Dec 12. The Essex boroughs included are:

  • Southend
  • Basildon
  • Canvey Island
  • Harlow
  • Brentwood 

In Kent, an additional two mobile testing units (MTU) were deployed on Saturday Dec 12, with a further 10 MTUs arriving later in the weekend. 

What about testing in Tier 2?

Tier 2 areas that are at the most risk of moving to the harshest level of restrictions, Tier 3, will also be offered community testing, in an attempt to limit transmission rates locally. 

The Department of Health and Social Care shared their latest plan to prevent the spread of the virus- inviting local authorities to submit proposals to access a fast and regular testing service, which will help avoid a move to Tier 3. As many as 67 areas in Tier 2 have already signed up to take part in the first wave of enhanced testing support and more rollouts expected in the new year, the department added.

What happened to mass testing in Liverpool?

The entire population of Liverpool was offered regular coronavirus testing from November 6 with 2,000 members of the armed forces providing logistical assistance.

Residents received results within 20 to 90 minutes of taking a test.

In a press conference on November 16, Dr Susan Hopkins said nearly 100,000 people had been tested with lateral flow devices.

But Dr Angela Raffle has said the claims made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health that there had been a three-quarters drop in Liverpool because of mass testing were “completely false.” 

On the success of the Liverpool mass testing scheme, she added: “The infection rate in Liverpool has come down no quicker than in many other places that haven’t got mass testing and we haven’t yet seen a proper evaluation report from Liverpool.”

The number of cases in the seven days prior to November 23 was 40 per cent lower than the week before, according to Liverpool City Council.

Around 27 per cent of those cases confirmed were detected using lateral flow testing kits.

How do I book an NHS Covid-19 test?

People on day one to four of showing symptoms are able to be tested on a testing site or at home, according to the NHS.

“If you’re ordering a home test kit on day four, do it by 3pm. On day five, you need to go to a test site. It’s too late to order a home test kit,” the NHS explains.

It says that people are able to order tests for others in their household: “If other people you live with have symptoms, you can order tests for up to three of them.

“If you’re applying for a test for someone else, and the person is aged 13 or over, check they’re happy for you to get a test for them.”

Apply online at or phone 119 if you have problems using the internet.

How long does the test result take?

A text or email will be sent when results are ready, with most people receiving results the day after the test.

“Some results might take longer, but you should get them in 72 hours,” the NHS says.

“There are three types of results you can get: negative; positive; and unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive.

“If you do not get your result, call the coronavirus testing contact centre on 119 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 0300 303 2713 (Scotland). The contact centre is open from 7am to 11pm.” 

What are antibody tests, and can I get one in the UK?

An antibody test is a blood test that checks if someone has had coronavirus. Free antibody testing is not yet widely available.

“It’s currently offered to NHS and care staff, as well as some hospital patients and care home residents,” according to the NHS.

Here’s what the NHS says about the test:

  • An antibody test checks for antibodies in your blood
  • Your body makes antibodies when you get an infection. They help fight the infection
  • If you have coronavirus antibodies in your blood, it’s likely you’ve had the virus before
  • It’s not known if having antibodies stops you getting the virus again

​In late July, The Telegraph reported that the hunt for a “game-changing” antibody test could be over after a version backed by the UK Government passed its first major trials with flying colours.

Are home antibody tests reliable?

The NHS said: “Home antibody test kits are not currently recommended as it has not been confirmed if they’re safe and reliable yet. You can pay for a test to be done at a private clinic, if you want to.” 

I want to go abroad – can I get a Covid-19 test to avoid quarantine?

Under current government rules travellers entering into the UK from any country listed on the quarantine list must self-isolate for 14 days. 

This applies to travellers who have had and recovered from coronavirus and also applies to travellers who have tested negative for Covid-19 and do not have any symptoms. 

Most recently, round 800 soldiers from the British army were sent to speed up Covid-19 testing for lorry drivers who spent Christmas Day stuck in their lorries. This comes after traffic halted following the cross-channel shut down earlier this week. 

The military personal were deployed to the makeshift testing centre set up at Manston Airport, though they also distributed food and water to the 4,000 lorry drivers. 

Read more:  How to book a Covid test for travelling abroad

Can I test positive for Covid-19 before experiencing any symptoms?

Studies have highlighted the significance of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. 

Research carried out by Imperial College London, Ipsos MORI and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust found that 81 per cent of people testing positive reported no symptoms on the day of the test or the previous week. 

Is it possible to get a false positive Covid-19 test result?

The accuracy of coronavirus tests has been called into question in recent months.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt cited evidence compiled by the University of Bristol which found that Covid-19 swab tests produced false negative rates of between 2 per cent and 29 per cent. 

However, the accuracy of testing depends on a range of factors including the type of test being used.

What are the new Rapid tests, and how can I get one?  

The two new tests announced by the Government earlier this month include DNA tests and swab tests. Some 5,000 “Nudgebox” machines, supplied by a biotech called DnaNudge, will provide 5.8 million tests, the department said.  

The machines, already in use in eight London hospitals, analyse the DNA in nose swabs and can process up to 15 tests on the spot each day, giving a result in up to 90 minutes. They can be operated outside a laboratory and do not require staff to undergo specialist training. More machines have since been scheduled to roll out across hospitals since September.  

The DnaNudge has now made the test available to consumers with the launch of a low-cost “Bubble Test”. These new tests give purchasers the ability to test up to 10 people at a time using one DnaNudge testing cartridge. As of this week, the DnaNudge test is available from £100 per cartridge (£10 per person) and can be purchased online or via appointment from the flagship store in London’s Covent Garden. More information can be found here.

The second new test, known as the LamPORE test will be able to process swab and saliva samples to detect the presence of Covid-19 in 60 to 90 minutes. The new test, developed by Oxford Nanopore which spun out of Oxford University, has the same sensitivity as the widely-used PCR swab test but can process swabs outside specialist laboratories.   

A palm-sized machine will process up to 2,000 tests a day while the larger desktop machine will be able to analyse up to 15,000 tests.

The LamPORE test is not currently available to purchase over the counter or online, but you may be tested using one through the Government’s Test and Trace scheme.

Original Source

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