Re­vealed: The su­per-fast Covid tests set to end so­cial dis­tanc­ing for ever

£500mil­lion boost for 5 tri­als that give re­sults in as lit­tle as 20 min­utes

Daily Mail - - Coronaviru­s Crisis - By So­phie Bor­land and Ja­son Groves

MIN­IS­TERS are dra­mat­i­cally scal­ing up mass-test­ing tri­als with the aim of get­ting Bri­tons back to work and fi­nally end­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­stric­tions.

They are in­vest­ing £500mil­lion in a string of projects which will of­fer re­peat rou­tine tests to of­fice work­ers, shop­pers, pub­lic sec­tor staff and school­child­ren.

Two of the five tri­als in­volve tests which de­liver re­sults in 20 min­utes while an­other two turn them around in a max­i­mum of 90 min­utes. These would en­able pa­tients to self-iso­late very quickly if they are found to be car­ry­ing the virus – or go back to work im­me­di­ately if they are neg­a­tive.

Boris Johnson told MPs yes­ter­day that the tests could ‘end the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing’ if they were rolled out na­tion­ally, par­tic­u­larly in work­places. Down­ing Street later con­firmed the Prime Min­is­ter had hailed the con­cept of rapid and re­peat test­ing as a ‘po­ten­tial game-changer’ by en­abling the UK to re­turn to nor­mal­ity. A White­hall in­sider said: ‘If peo­ple know that ev­ery­one in their of­fice has been tested that week, it is go­ing to give them a lot more con­fi­dence that it is safe to come back to work.’

A Depart­ment of Health source de­scribed the £500mil­lion fund­ing boost as ‘the next step to­wards mass-test­ing.’ The Govern­ment is in­vest­ing the money in five projects which ei­ther in­volve rapid tests or re­peat swabs on mem­bers of the pub­lic who do not have symp­toms.

One such trial will be launched in Sal­ford,

Greater Manch­ester, within days and in­volve weekly tests on 250 peo­ple ev­ery day in­clud­ing of­fice work­ers, shop­pers and wor­ship­pers. The project will be­gin in a walk-in unit in the city centre but of­fi­cials hope to roll it out to cover as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. They be­lieve that by iden­ti­fy­ing pos­i­tive cases very quickly – as well as their close con­tacts – they will avoid the need for lo­cal lock­downs by stop­ping the virus in its tracks.

Part of the money will be in­vested to ex­pand a sec­ond trial in Southamp­ton which in­volves a 20-minute saliva test to in­clude 2,100 pupils and teach­ers across four sec­ondary schools.

The same type of saliva test is be­ing as­sessed in a third trial in Hamp­shire in GP surg­eries, A&E units and care homes, which will now be ex­panded.

This test is par­tic­u­larly ben­e­fi­cial for school­child­ren as they do not have to have their nose and back-of-the throat swabbed, which can be very un­com­fort­able. Some of the re­main­ing fund­ing will go to­wards ex­pand­ing two tri­als of 90-minute tests, the LamPORE and the DNA Nudge­box, which are cur­rently in a num­ber of NHS hos­pi­tals and care homes. Mr Johnson told col­leagues that the new tests could ‘end the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing’ and play a ma­jor role in get­ting Bri­tain back to nor­mal­ity.

An MP present at the pri­vate meet­ing said: ‘He told us there was news com­ing on a new test that can tell you if you are Covid con­ta­gious or not – and that this will end the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing. He was very an­i­mated about it.’

A No10 source said: ‘Wide­spread, swift-turn­around Covid test­ing could be a real gamechange­r. The PM is hugely en­thu­si­as­tic about this idea – that is why we are throw­ing ev­ery­thing at it. We are not there yet. The tech­nol­ogy is not yet proven and we don’t know how quickly we will be able to scale things up. But if you can get it to the point where it works and can be scaled up around the coun­try then it could be some­thing that al­lows peo­ple to get more of their free­dom back.’

Min­is­ters are hop­ing to in­crease test­ing ca­pac­ity from 350,000 a day to 500,000 by the end of Oc­to­ber. Ul­ti­mately, they want to scale this up to four mil­lion tests a day by next Fe­bru­ary as part of a drive dubbed by Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock as ‘Op­er­a­tion Moon Shot.’

Re­fer­ring to the fund­ing in­jec­tion, Mr Han­cock said: ‘Test­ing is a vi­tal line of de­fence in com­bat­ing this pan­demic. Over the past six months we have built al­most from scratch one of the big­gest test­ing sys­tems in the

‘This is a po­ten­tial game-changer’

world. We are back­ing in­no­va­tive new tests that are fast, ac­cu­rate and eas­ier to use and will max­imise the im­pact and scale of test­ing, help­ing us to get back to a more nor­mal way of life.’ Baroness Dido Hard­ing, of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health Pro­tec­tion, said: ‘New test­ing tech­nolo­gies and meth­ods are vi­tal to keep the sys­tem evolv­ing and im­prov­ing, es­pe­cially as we as­sess how rou­tine test­ing could help pick up cases of the virus ear­lier.’

How­ever, there is grow­ing con­cern about the test and trace sys­tem. Fig­ures last week showed it was iden­ti­fy­ing fewer close con­tacts than the previous month, down from 51 per cent to 42 per cent. Dr Layla McCay, of the NHS Con­fed­er­a­tion, said: ‘The lat­est test and trace fig­ures show there is a big gap be­tween where we are and where we need to be as we near the pres­sures of win­ter, so this new fund­ing for tri­als to scale up test­ing ca­pac­ity can’t come soon enough.’

Put to the test: Swab­bing for Covid-19 in Sal­is­bury and, left, a child is checked in Le­ices­ter

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