Health leaders in North Yorkshire are urging the public to take up the offer of two rapid coronavirus tests a week to help keep infections under control as lockdown rules ease.
The rapid lateral flow tests will be paid for by the government and can be delivered to homes free of charge from Friday in what will mark a major expansion of the nation’s testing programme designed to catch outbreaks early as the economy reopens.
The tests will also be available for collection at testing sites and some pharmacies, and can provide results in around 30 minutes.
Speaking at North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum briefing today, Dr Victoria Turner, public health consultant at the county council, said while the tests would play an important part in the safe exit from lockdown, contact tracing and making sure people who test positive self-isolate would be the key.
She said: “Alongside the vaccination rollout, regular testing is at the heart of the government’s plan to reopen society and the economy given that we know around a third of people with Covid don’t display any symptoms.
“Testing will help us to identify more cases but it is contact tracing and isolation that really helps to stop the spread.
“As we progress with the roadmap out of lockdown it is going to be even more important that we follow that self-isolation advice.”
Anyone who tests positive using a lateral flow test will be expected to self-isolate along with their household. They can then order a PCR Covid test – typically used for symptomatic cases – which will be sent off to a laboratory for analysis.
If the confirmatory test comes back negative, their quarantine period will then end and they can resume normal life.
The new mass testing programme comes after lateral flow testing was introduced for secondary school children and staff in March as part of plans to reopen classrooms. It involved students needing three negative results before they could return, followed by twice-weekly tests.
And of the more than 100,000 tests carried out at North Yorkshire schools during the first few weeks, only 26 returned positive cases, today’s briefing heard.
Meanwhile, there have been questions over the accuracy of the rapid tests as they may pick up only between half to three-quarters of positive cases, but given they are being used to spot cases before people develop symptoms or for those who do not develop symptoms, the government is adamant they have an important role.
Ministers are also understood to be considering how the testing programme could form part of a Covid certification scheme through which the public would be required to prove they have been vaccinated or show a recent negative test result in order to attend events or venues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the ‘Covid passports’ could help signal a person is not contagious but many MPs have criticised the plans and demanded a vote on the issue.
Announcing the mass rapid testing system on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it would be “fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks.”
He said: “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.
“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.”