In an article for The Mail on Sunday, Mr Hancock says that while the vaccines represent the ‘cavalry’ in the battle, the ratcheting up of testing was an ‘important weapon in our fight against the virus’.
More than two million new ‘lateral flow’ tests, produced by the British company SureScreen Diagnostics, will be made available to all parts of England from this week.
The aim of the new tests, which give results within 30 minutes, is to catch the ‘silent spreaders’ – the estimated one in three people who do not have any symptoms when they have the virus and so are unaware that they are infectious.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today announces plans for the mass rollout of rapid Covid-19 testing for people who cannot work at home during the lockdown
Barely one in three of the 317 English local authorities offers testing in the community for people who do not display symptoms. Testing is mainly directed at critical workers such as NHS staff.
Under the new plan, the test will be offered to all local authorities in England, and they will urged to make it available for anyone who has to leave home to work.
The Government is also working closely with the Welsh and Scottish administrations to make the tests available.
The Army is expected to assist with the beefed-up programme, as it is already with vaccinations.
Mr Hancock says that the approach promises to bring down the R number – the rate at which the virus reproduces – by up to 0.6, ‘helping break chains of transmission and save lives’.
In his article, Mr Hancock says: ‘We must use this lockdown to stop cases from rising by finding as many of those who have the disease, and insisting on total isolation.
‘And we will be targeting this testing programme at those who cannot work from home and who have to leave home during lockdown, providing them with another layer of protection and helping us to drive down the spread of the virus’.
More than two million new ‘lateral flow’ tests, produced by the British company SureScreen Diagnostics, will be made available to all parts of England from this week
The Health Secretary, who took one of the tests in his office on Friday – and was found to be Covid negative – adds: ‘If we do this, then we know that 2021 will be a year of recovery, and a year when this nation gets back on its feet once more’.
The prospect of regular mass testing has led to fears among civil liberties campaigners that people could be prevented by the authorities from undertaking essential journeys unless they can produce documentation proving that they have tested negative – or that they have a so-called ‘immunity passport’ in the form of either a vaccination certificate or proof of antibodies from a Covid infection, which protect against the disease.
However, a Department of Health source said that there were no plans to use the testing plan for this purpose.
The source said: ‘We want local authorities to be targeting the testing at people unable to work from home during lockdown. They can request military support if they feel they need it.’
SureScreen, based in Derby, says it will deliver two million lateral flow tests by Friday, but believes that it could deliver more than ten times this number over the next few months.
Baroness Dido Harding, the interim executive chairman of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: ‘Lateral flow tests are playing an ever-increasing role in our testing programme as we continue to expand testing to find positive cases amongst those without symptoms.
‘Having a British manufacturer provides greater certainty that we will be able to continue to grow our supply.’
MATT HANCOCK: Quick, easy and a vital tool to help us get back to normal
By Health Secretary Matt Hancock for the Mail on Sunday
We begin 2021 knowing that vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. Human ingenuity and phenomenal scientific advances make it a case of when, not if, we will return to normal life, writes Matt Hancock (pictured)
We begin 2021 knowing that vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. Human ingenuity and phenomenal scientific advances make it a case of when, not if, we will return to normal life.
The cavalry is here, thanks to our vaccination programme. Across the UK we have already protected more people through vaccinations than any other European country.
While we accelerate the vaccination programme, we must keep this virus under control. This has been made all the harder by the new variant, which spreads from person to person so much more easily.
So alongside the pivotal work on vaccine rollout, we must not lose focus on our system of testing, which we know is another important weapon in our fight against this virus.
We know that by isolating positive cases, testing can bring down the R number by between 0.3 and 0.6 – helping break chains of transmission and save lives.
Since last autumn, we have been regularly testing our colleagues in health and social care and those working in critical infrastructure, to give them peace of mind and to keep them and their colleagues safe. Working with councils we have built community testing in the areas where prevalence is highest to help find more cases sooner, and we now have more than 400 sites in community centres, village halls and places of worship.
This targeted approach has yielded results, picking up more cases on average than the national average and allowing us to bear down hard on the virus in a local area. Today I am able to announce that testing for those without symptoms will be available everywhere in England, and we are working closely with devolved administrations, so every corner of the UK can benefit from this life-saving work.
Testing matters because it helps us all find who has the disease, and so breaks the chains of transmission. This expansion comes at a critical time. We recently had to introduce difficult but vital restrictions to deal with a highly transmissible new variant of coronavirus. It is vital that everyone stays at home, unless they have a reason why they can’t.
But, of course, many key workers cannot work from home. People who keep vital services going are not able to. So even in lockdown, testing matters. We must use this lockdown to stop cases from rising by finding as many of those who have the disease, and insisting on total isolation. And we will be targeting this testing programme at those who cannot work from home and who have to leave home during lockdown, providing them with another layer of protection and helping us to drive down the spread of the virus.
Many large employers are playing their part in this national effort too, like John Lewis and Tata Steel, which are already doing regular workforce testing, alongside the NHS and social care.
I want to see more of this rapid testing available to employers whose staff can’t work from home. I’ve asked NHS Test and Trace to work closely with other Government departments, employers and local authorities to make this happen.
This critical national infrastructure for testing will be so important as we ease restrictions, so we can use the confidence provided by accurate testing to find the virus, limit its spread and help us return to normal life.
One of the greatest breakthroughs in our testing programme was the use of lateral flow devices, which can pick up infectious cases and turn around rapid results.
So far, most of these tests have been shipped in from abroad, but we now have signed a contract with SureScreen Diagnostics, based in Derby, to deliver the first approved lateral flow tests made right here in Britain. The tests are easy to take and give a result in under 30 minutes. I took one on Friday, and thankfully I was negative.
Two million of these rapid tests have already been manufactured, and will be used from this week.
This is great news for our country, not only because it allows us to test more people, it also allows us to boost British industry and further enhance our world-leading life sciences sector. While we deliver our vital programmes for testing and vaccines, using the best of human ingenuity to keep us safe for the long-term, we must all play our part and follow the rules that we know can get this new variant of the virus under control.
If we do this, then we know that 2021 will be a year of recovery, and a year when this nation gets back on its feet once more.