Care home staff in England will receive two rapid result Covid-19 tests per week in an effort to protect against the new variant.
Health officials have brought forward the plans for staff to be given bi-weekly lateral flow device tests (LFDs) amid concerns about the rapidly spreading mutated strain.
Testing in all tiers
Staff in all tiers will be given two LFDs, one mid-week, in addition to the regular weekly PCR tests, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
In the event a Covid-19 case is identified in a care home in a Tier 4 area, all staff members will be tested daily with LFDs for a week.
Public Health England confirmed that LFDs can detect the new variant or coronavirus.
Regular testing has already been put in place in care homes in England to help enable close contact visits and combat isolation among residents.
Currently, these cannot take place in Tier 4 care homes but indoor visits can still go ahead with the use of other measures including screens and pods.
The government’s position remains that in-person visits should be the norm across all tiers, unless it is unsafe in the event a home has an outbreak.
The DHSC cautioned that testing is only one part of keeping residents safe, and said it is essential that staff and visitors also wear personal protective equipment and follow infection control measures.
£149 million of funding
The rollout of rapid testing is being supported by a £149 million grant and the money will pay for care homes to set up safe testing areas, provide staff training and contribute towards staff time spent on administering and receiving the tests up to March.
Homes will have to use a room for tests to be undertaken, plus another room for people to wait half-an-hour for their results, and ensure each test is registered.
The grant will also help care homes in Tier 1, 2 and 3 areas meet additional costs associated with visits, so that residents can see their loved ones.
The money will be made available early next year and will be distributed via local authorities.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the rollout of the tests at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday (23 December).
He said: “We have worked throughout the pandemic to protect staff, and residents in care homes and today we are boosting rapid testing in care homes, with a further £149 million to support that effort.
“All those who work in care homes across England will receive two rapid tests a week, in addition to their weekly PCR test.”