Mass testing in ALL Tier Three lockdown areas: Army will be drafted in to test every resident in after Liverpool trial was hailed a success despite warnings tests could miss a THIRD of people with coronavirus
- Mass testing of people with no signs of illness to be used in all hard-hit areas
- Officials hope it will weed out ‘silent spreaders’ who infect others unknowingly
- Liverpool trial found more than 1,200 people with rapid testing programme
- But it did not manage a third of the population; aspired to have everyone tested
- And scientists are concerned that 67% accurate test is not good enough
The military will be drafted in to set up rapid coronavirus testing for everyone in areas under the strictest local lockdown rules when the tiered system returns.
England is expected to go back to its three-tier network of local rules when the national shutdown lifts on December 2, with mass testing expanded to keep outbreaks down.
Anyone will be able to get tested in the worst-affected areas, even if they don’t have any symptoms, after the trial of the operation in Liverpool was hailed a success.
Army personnel there staff walk-in testing centres to help people carry out swab tests that can produce results within 20 minutes, and could be deployed to do the same all over the country.
Liverpool’s month-long trial was hailed a success by government officials, with 125,000 people coming forward for testing and 1,200 testing positive despite not feeling at all ill.
This could have prevented thousands of other people becoming infected and broken chains of transmission in the city, which was one of the worst hit in England’s second wave.
But it wasn’t a success in all ways – only less than a third of the city’s population of 400,000 used the testing programme when officials hoped that most would.
And scientists are sceptical about whether the rapid tests being used in the programme are accurate enough, with studies suggesting that will miss at least three in 10 positive cases and potentially more than a third.
One testing expert said last week that the tests are ‘entirely unsuitable’ for the Government’s plan to use them to decide whether or not people should isolate.
Army personnel in Liverpool staffed rapid testing centres for people without symptoms to get swab tested for coronavirus (Pictured: Staff at a centre in Liverpool Exhibition Centre during a visit from Defence Secretary Ben Wallace)
Coronavirus tests are still being carried out by trained health professionals in some places, while others are relying on citizens to swab themselves (Pictured: A nurse swabs a woman’s throat at a test centre in Stoke-on-Trent)
The rapid testing programme trialled in Liverpool is expected to remain in place there even when the city comes out of lockdown, and it will be expanded across the UK.
Government officials had already announced that the programme would be expanded to 67 other local across the country.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce today that the same tests will be offered to any area in Tier Three, The Times reported.
Officials in areas facing the toughest local lockdown rules will be able to enlist the help of the military or NHS Test & Trace to scale up testing.
Although simply testing more people is not enough to stop the virus spreading, if everyone is offered tests the system can find people who don’t have symptoms and would otherwise not have been eligible for an official swab.
It is often these people who spread the virus further because they don’t realise they’re carrying it and go about their lives as normal.
Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, said more than 1,200 people had got positive results through the mass testing scheme even though they had no illness.
More than 125,000 people used the rapid tests during the month-long trial, the Financial Times reported.
WHAT IS OPERATION MOONSHOT AND WHAT WAS TRIALLED IN LIVERPOOL?
Operation Moonshot is the Government’s plan to get millions of people tested and given a result on the same day.
Tests would be routinely given to hospital staff, carers and swathes of the workforce to try and jump-start the economy.
But there have been serious doubts about whether Number 10 is capable of pulling it off.
Currently the Department of Health claims it has a testing capacity of around 540,000 swabs per day.
Moonshot is seen as the only way out of the perpetual loosening and tightening of lockdown curbs without a viable vaccine.
The city of 500,000 was used by officials as a pilot to see if it can pull off rapid testing on a mass scale.
Tests which give results in less than an hour will be used in the trial, as well as the normal PCR swab tests that are already used in centres across the country.
Hospitals in the city were originally supposed to have a 20-minute test at their disposal – to be used to routinely test all of their staff – but it emerged today the machines are less than 50 per cent accurate.
The tests will still be used in small a scheme on hospital staff in Liverpool but there are now worries that they aren’t good enough.
And at the same time the city’s infection rate has plummeted from a high of 681 positive tests per 100,000 people at the start of October to 263 per 100,000 in mid-November.
Mr Anderson told the FT: ‘This has been a success. The virus was out of control. Now it is under control.’
But the programme wasn’t a success by every measure and scientists are still not convinced it will work across the entire country.
The Government had wanted the entire population of Liverpool, or as much of it as possible, to get tested through the rapid test scheme.
Boris Johnson said when Operation Moonshot was launched that he hoped it would become big enough to test everyone in the UK population once a week in order to stamp out coronavirus and allow people to live normal lives.
But the approximately 125,000 people tested in Liverpool’s trial accounts for only slightly more than a quarter of the city’s 400,000 people, which may come as a disappointment.
Scientists, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the plans to use this nationwide and giving too much heavy lifting to cheap and fast – but less than perfect – tests.
Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the British Medical Journal she wasn’t sure mass testing would work.
‘We do not know, based on current evidence, whether screening the general population for SARS-CoV-2 will increase or decrease disease transmission, hospitalisations, and deaths,’ she said.
‘Detection and isolation of asymptomatic cases could potentially decrease disease transmission, but false reassurance from missed cases could potentially increase transmission, if people then engage in more risky behaviour.’
The Government used lateral flow tests in its pilot in Liverpool which, although rapid, are not as accurate as the officially used PCR swabs that take a couple of days to process.
Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at Birmingham University, told the BMJ while there was a low rate of errors ‘the number of false positives can still outnumber the number of cases detected’.
Evaluation of the fast-acting tests, which give results within 20 minutes, suggested they only detect three quarters of positive cases even in a best case scenario.
Public Health England investigations found that the test, made by the company Innova, was 76.8 per cent sensitive when used by a trained lab technician but this fell to just 58 per cent when people swabbed themselves.
This would mean that at least a quarter (23.2 per cent) of positive results would be missed in a best case scenario, and this could even surge to an average 42 per cent.
Professor Deeks said: ‘The poor detection rate of the test makes it entirely unsuitable for the government’s claim that it will allow the safe “test and release” of people from lockdown and students from university.’
He added: ‘The benefits are likely to be few, with serious risks of harm from the public being misled by the unjustified claims of high performance of this test from the government.’
Testing will play a huge role in controlling coronavirus after lockdown as Boris Johnson is also expected to announce that regular swabs could be offered to people as a way out of self-isolation.
The £7billion test system will allow thousands to get back to normal life even if they have come into contact with an infected person.
Tens of millions of fast-turnaround tests will also be made available to areas put in the highest level of the new tiered system of Covid restrictions.
The scheme will deploy the lateral flow tests which were trialled in Liverpool and give them to those who come into contact with an infected person every day for a week.
If they test negative they will be able to go about their lives as normal. After seven days of negative tests they will be released from the system.
Trials of the scheme will begin this week in Liverpool, where the Army has been helping to conduct the first mass testing of an entire city.
If successful, the project will be rolled out for NHS staff next month, before being made available to everyone from January.
Fast-turnaround tests will also be used to enable care home visits this winter.
Downing Street last night confirmed that ministers hope to be able to allow residents to receive regular visits from two loved ones.
Named visitors will be tested twice a week. Negative tests will allow people to visit their loved ones and drop social distancing requirements.
A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘Crucially, visitors will be able to have physical contact, such as a hug or holding hands with their loved ones.’
Trials have already begun in 20 care homes ahead of a national rollout planned for next month.
Care workers looking after people in their homes will also be offered weekly tests from today.
The mass testing initiative is part of a new Covid Winter Plan to be announced by the PM today.
It is expected to cost £7 billion, taking the total bill for NHS Test and Trace to £22 billion this year.
Ministers believe mass testing could play a critical role in enabling society to open up again in the coming months.
Plans are also being drawn up for the development of so-called ‘freedom passes’, which could allow people to attend events like live theatre and sport matches.
But these are not likely to be available until the New Year.
OPERATION MOONSHOT WIDENED TO 67 AREAS OF ENGLAND
Mass rapid coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across in nearly 70 more local authorities, the Health Secretary said this month.
Matt Hancock revealed areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands will receive the rapid Covid-19 tests.
London, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry are also among the cities to get a batch of tests.
At least 600,000 lateral flow tests have been sent out across the UK to kick-start the next stage of mass coronavirus testing, which ministers hope could finally send the virus packing.
Mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across 66 local authorities, the Health Secretary said
The antigen tests can tell if a person is currently infected with coronavirus – even if they have no symptoms – and the technology can give results within an hour.
Every resident in Liverpool has been able to get tested for the disease since Friday, when the major army-backed scheme was first launched. The city, home to 500,000 people, was the first to be involved with No10’s ambitious ‘Operation Moonshot’ — a mission to screen millions of asymptomatic people every day.
Speaking on Sky News on November 10, Mr Hancock claimed 66 local authorities had already expressed interest in the mass-testing scheme. More are expected to sign up in the coming weeks.
Despite Mr Hancock saying it was 66 authorities, the Department of Health released a list of 67 authorities that will get the rapid tests.
He added: ‘I can confirm we are rolling out the sort of mass testing we are seeing in Liverpool, and indeed we earlier piloted in Stoke-on-Trent, across 66 local authorities.
‘Last night I wrote to the directors of public health of all local authorities in England saying we can make available these brilliant new lateral flow tests that give results in 15 minutes, and we can make them available to directors of public health right across the country.
‘Sixty-six expressed an interest in the first instance, I’m now expecting a whole load more.’
Mr Hancock also said that mass testing, like a vaccine roll-out, would be across the UK not just England.
He added: ‘The UK Government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.
‘The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK.’
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