The Daily Telegraph
Tests rolled out for front-line NHS staff
Sharp increase in rate of patients being diagnosed with Covid-19 compared with 1pc at start of month
NHS workers will be checked for coronavirus under a massive roll-out of testing, while the public could soon be issued with an all-clear “certificate” if they have recovered from the virus.
Last night, Michael Gove said free testing for front-line staff would begin immediately, with hundreds of swabs due to be taken over the weekend, before being scaled up next week.
Boots said it had started training staff and identifying locations where
NHS workers could be checked, while universities, research institutes and firms lent their equipment to three hub laboratories that will be set up.
Amazon and Royal Mail will move kits and samples around the country.
Elsewhere, a source close to the Government said new antibody tests would soon be available which would confirm whether somebody had recovered from coronavirus and was immune.
Public health officials were looking into whether members of the public could be then issued with a certificate or document that would allow them to leave lockdown and get back to work.
Announcing the tests for front-line workers, Mr Gove, who stepped in to lead yesterday’s briefing after the Prime Minister tested positive for coronavirus, said: “This will be antigen testing – testing whether people currently have the disease – so our health and social care workers can have security in the knowledge that they are safe to return to work if their test is negative.”
ONE in three people being tested for coronavirus are now returning positive results, in a huge escalation of infection rates.
When widespread testing began at the start of the month, fewer than 1 per cent of tests were positive.
Yesterday, the Department of Health revealed that 2,921 samples had tested positive out of 8,911 swabs, amounting to 33 per cent.
Britain also recorded its biggest dayon-day rise in deaths since the outbreak began, with the death toll rising from 578 to 759, an increase of 181.
Overall, some 14,579 people have now tested positive out of 113,777 samples carried out.
It took 13 days for the number of deaths in the UK to go from one to just above 100 but just a further eight days to reach the latest total of 759.
It comes as Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, all reported that they had been infected.
Earlier this week, the Prince of Wales was also suffering “mild symptoms” of Covid-19.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “Over the coming weekend, we can expect to see the UK’S toll of the disease pass the 1,000 threshold and that over the coming weeks, we will see the daily increases in the numbers of deaths, grow ever larger.
“It’s essential that people observe social distancing rules in order to start to turn the tide on the coronavirus.”
The Government has faced criticism for the relatively small number of people it has so far tested. Ministers and officials have repeatedly pledged to increase testing to 10,000, 25,000 and even 250,000 people per day.
But yesterday’s total of 8,911 tests is the highest daily number since the beginning of the outbreak and in recent days, the figures rarely topped 5,000.
The Government said it would reach 10,000 tests a day by Monday but admitted it did not yet know when it would reach 25,000. The World Health Organisation has repeatedly called on countries to test more and at a press conference yesterday, Dr Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Emergencies Programme, said testing and contact tracing was key because “if you know where the virus is, you can break the chain”.
Earlier this week, Prof Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, who has been helping the Government to model the epidemic, told the science and technology select committee that a strategy of containment through rigorous contact tracing and testing was unavailable to Britain because it did not have the capacity to test.
The Government has announced three new testing hubs and has called on universities and institutions to help them get through the huge numbers of samples.
Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, said that more front-line staff would be tested initially, so that those who were not infected could get back to work.
“We think it is urgently important that we are able to test front-line staff who are off sick or living with others who are self-isolating.
“We will be rolling out staff testing beginning next week, starting with critical nurses, other staff in intensive care, emergency room staff, ambulance, GPS and we want to expand that to a wider range of essential public workers, social care service and continuing with patient testing which is so vital.”
Scientists said that the UK could expect far more cases in the coming weeks, particularly if more testing is brought in.
Dr Mike Tildesley, associate professor, University of Warwick, said: “The increase in the number of cases and deaths as a result of Covid-19 is unfortunately what we might expect during this phase of the outbreak in the UK.
“It is important to state that, while the UK entered lockdown on Monday night, it is too soon for us to observe the effect of that intervention policy.
“Owing to the relatively long incubation period of the disease, most of those confirmed cases will have been infected prior to the introduction of the most severe social distancing measures and therefore over the next few days, we may expect to see the number of daily confirmed cases continue to climb, before starting to decline once the current social distancing measures start to have an effect.”