/Essential workers in England to get virus tests

Essential workers in England to get virus tests

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Media captionMatt Hancock: “Easier, faster and simpler” for essential workers to get coronavirus tests

All essential workers in England – and members of their household – are now eligible for coronavirus tests, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Individuals who are on the list of key workers and need to book a test will be able to do so on the UK government’s website from Friday.

At the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Hancock said the move was “part of getting Britain back on her feet”.

He added 18,000 people will be hired in the UK to trace infections.

The Welsh government had previously announced plans to expand testing to key workers, such as teachers and food delivery drivers.

Scotland is prioritising tests for NHS staff and has yet to announce any expansion of testing to key workers.

Addressing the UK government’s “challenging” target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, Mr Hancock said capacity for carrying out tests had expanded “ahead of our plans” to more than 50,000 a day.

“Our ultimate goal is that everyone who could benefit from a test gets a test,” he said.

The government is also introducing home test kits as well as mobile testing sites, which will be operated with the support of the armed forces, Mr Hancock said.

Key workers who are unable to access the government’s website will still be able to apply for a test, as employers are able to book on behalf of their staff from Thursday.

Mr Hancock said those who qualify as essential workers will be based on criteria similar to those used for deciding whose children can still attend school. The whole process will be free for those being tested.

Hospitals have been carrying out tests, along with a network of about 30 drive-through centres in car parks, at airports and sports grounds.

But the drive-through centres have not always been in convenient locations, which may have discouraged people from getting tested, BBC health correspondent Nick Triggle said.

Mr Hancock also announced steps that were being taken to help establish a network of contact tracers that will be used when lockdown is lifted, as he said a process of “test, track and trace” would be “vital” to stop a second peak of the virus.

He said infrastructure will be put in place so that contact tracing can be rolled out on a “large scale”.

These are big announcements on testing, which will be important in terms of getting out of lockdown.

The 18,000-strong army of contact tracers will be significant.

When contact tracing was done at the start of the outbreak to try to contain coronavirus, it relied on a few hundred staff working for Public Health England’s nine regional teams.

When restrictions are eased, infections will rise. The government will need a system of containing any local outbreaks.

These contact tracers will help by identifying close contacts of those infected to keep ahead of the virus by finding cases early.

But the missing piece of the jigsaw is widespread testing for the general public so that the people who are identified can be tested.

By the end of next week the government is aiming to get to 100,000 tests a day.

Achieving that, and perhaps more, will be essential to ensuring there is a robust system in place to allow for a gradual, phased return to some degree of normality.

Also at the briefing, Prof John Newton, co-ordinator of the UK’s coronavirus testing programme, said the government was “on track” to reach its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April.

He added: “We’re going to have 48 of these pop-up facilities which can travel around the country to where they’re needed most – for example, in care homes.”

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