Local councils in Tier 3 hotspot areas will be paid £14 for every test carried out in a bid to encourage widespread uptake.
Authorities could use the money on ‘discount schemes with local businesses’ to incentivise residents to get checked for the disease, an official document says. Local health chiefs will decide whether to test entire populations or target particular age groups, ethnic minorities or residents from specific areas.
Number 10 wants to carry out 2million tests a day by the end of the year using lateral flow kits, which give results in as little as half an hour.
Boris Johnson plans to use mass swabbing of people with and without symptoms as a way to keep Covid squashed until vaccines can be distributed en masse.
A mass testing pilot in Liverpool is credited with helping the city slash infections by two thirds, which will see it downgraded to Tier 2 when the national lockdown ends.
But other councils have been told they will not benefit from the same level of logistical help from the army, which helped transport and administer tests as part of the pilot.
Under the new local testing guidance, Number 10 also makes provision for so-called ‘freedom passes’, where those who get a negative result could be allowed into pubs, restaurants and sporting grounds, which are supposed to stay closed in Tier 3.
The guidance says: ‘Should local areas want to use community testing as a route to providing a relaxation of restrictions that would otherwise not be available in Tier 3, these proposals will need to have an assessment of impact and risks and be agreed with local Directors of Public Health, national public health advisors and the Secretary of State.’
Britons could be offered shopping vouchers and lottery tickets in return for getting tested for Covid-19 under mass schemes in the most infected areas (stock)
COVID-19 BACK UNDER CONTROL AS NHS ‘TURNS A CORNER’, SAYS HANCOCK
The national lockdown means coronavirus is now back under control, the Health Secretary said last night.
Announcing a wider community testing programme, Matt Hancock said cases have dropped by 30 per cent in England in the past week.
The number in hospital with the virus had fallen to 15,712 yesterday, compared with 16,612 a week ago.
Researchers believe the crucial R-rate fell to 0.88 in the past month, suggesting England has firmly moved past the peak of the second wave, and may have dropped as low as 0.71 by the start of last week.
It takes case rates to fewer than one for every 100 people – the lowest since the first half of October.
Mr Hancock said it showed the strict measures were working but warned that as lockdown ends tomorrow there is little room for complacency, with Christmas beckoning and the NHS facing its usual winter pressures.
He told a Downing Street briefing: ‘Through everyone’s actions in respecting the national lockdown, and through everything that people have sacrificed, we’ve reduced pressures on the NHS, we’ve brought down the number of coronavirus cases, we’ve got this virus back under control.’
Local authorities in Tier Three – including boroughs of Greater Manchester, Newcastle and Kent – will be able to apply to the Government scheme for funding but will be left to decide whether to test whole sections of the population.
They will be offered advice and training on how to deploy the tests, but will have to pay for logistics and staff out of their £14 per test, reports The Times.
A document, published by the Department of Health last night, suggests councils should run schemes to encourage people to get swabbed.
‘Examples might include discount schemes with local businesses, partnerships with community organisations or local employers, or door knocking campaigns,’ it reads.
The tests are seen as a way out of the pandemic as they can detect asymptomatic infections in individuals, when no symptoms of the virus are present.
Those suffering from these, which the Government estimates is up to a third of all infections, can then be asked to self-isolate, stopping Covid-19 spreading further in the community.
But critics have warned people may not turn up for tests if it could lead to them being forced to self-isolate, potentially putting their jobs at risk.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock stressed at a Downing Street press conference last night the importance of breaking the chain of transmission.
He said: ‘If you have Covid-19 without symptoms and still infect others, that of course is a silent danger. You wouldn’t know that you’re risking lives around you.
‘And so to anybody, if you’re offered a test, please take it, you might just save a life.’
General Sir Gordon Messenger, the retired vice-chief of defence staff who will be running the campaign, said last night it is ‘really important’ to drive up participation in the testing scheme.
‘The higher the numbers that we get tested then the more effective this regime will be,’ he said.
The Government’s rolling out of the scheme follows its success in Liverpool, where more than 200,000 people have so far being checked for the virus.
The scheme was supported by the army to see as many people checked for the virus as possible using rapid Lateral Flow tests.
It is unlikely that this could be replicated, however, as it is rolled out across different council areas.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night that mass testing was key to breaking transmission chains. General Sir Gordon Messenger, who is handling the testing scheme, said the mass swabbing was ‘important’ for driving down infections
A panel of leading experts previously warned against using lateral flow tests for mass swabbing, who claim the lateral flow tests are too poor.
They also said it will divert essential funding away from the already-overstretched NHS and Britain’s beleaguered contact tracing scheme, which ‘needs urgent improvement’.
Lateral flow tests which give a result in minutes miss between 25 and 50 per cent of coronavirus cases – which could give people false confidence to mingle with vulnerable people and spread the disease further.
Experts from universities in Newcastle, Birmingham, Warwick and Bristol said it was telling that population screening for Covid-19 has not been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
At a virtual press conference last month, Professor Allyson Pollock, clinical professor of public health at the University of Newcastle, said: ‘The evidence for screening is not there.
‘The evidence around the tests is poor and weak at the moment, and needs to be improved.
‘We’re arguing the moonshot programme really should be paused, until the cost effectiveness and the value for money of any of these programmes is well established.’