With concern growing about potential infections in schools due to vulnerable and critical worker children still attending lessons, the government has announced that existing plans for rapid testing fo staff and students in secondary schools and colleges, and staff in primary schools, remain in place.
Secondary schools and colleges have set up test sites, and have started testing staff and students present on site during the lockdown.
Primary schools will begin receiving test kits for their staff shortly, say health officials. These will be ‘home test kits’ to test the primary school workforce on a weekly basis. This means primary schools won’t need to set up test sites in the same way as secondary schools.
The government says it is possible to use home test kits in primary schools as nobody under the age of 18 will be tested.
“Primary schools will simply need to store these kits and pass them out to their workforce to enable them to do weekly testing. All the instructions on how to carry out the test at home and how the individual reports their test results are included in the test box,” explains the government announcement.
Like in secondary schools, primary schools will receive enough equipment to make weekly tests available for all their staff – teachers and support workers
Rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms of Covid-19 will also be made available across the country from this week, with the eligibility of the community testing programme expanded to cover all local authorities.
Local authorities will be encouraged to target testing at people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown.
Expansion of asymptomatic testing will identify more positive cases of Covid-19 and ensure those infected isolate, protecting those who cannot work from home and vital services. It comes after various cases of infections among supermarket and factory staff in recent weeks. This programme is seen as crucial given that around one in three people have coronavirus without displaying any symptoms.
A total of 131 local authorities have signed up to community testing to date, with 107 already having started testing in their communities. Many of these, including Essex and Milton Keynes, are focusing on testing of critical workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons.
In addition to local authorities, NHS Test and Trace will also work closely with other government departments to scale up workforce testing. Many are already piloting regular workforce testing, with 15 large employers having taken up this offer already across 64 sites, including organisations operating in the food, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors, and within the public sector including job centres, transport networks, and the military. An estimated 27,000 tests have taken place across the public sector as part of pilots so far.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “With roughly a third of people who have coronavirus not showing symptoms, targeted asymptomatic testing and subsequent isolation is highly effective in breaking chains of transmission. Rapid, regular testing is led by local authorities who design programmes based on their in-depth knowledge of the local populations, so testing can have the greatest impact.
“We are now expanding this offer to every local authority across the country, and asking testing to be targeted on workers who cannot work from home during this national lockdown, while asking employers to work with us to scale up workforce testing.
“Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly – and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread - so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up. We must all do all we can to stop the spread of COVID, right now.”
Targeted, regular community testing using lateral flow tests has already identified over 14,800 positive Covid-19 cases who would not have been identified without targeted asymptomatic testing, breaking chains of transmission in the community, says the health service.
This latest expansion of the testing programme builds on the millions of asymptomatic critical workers being tested every week, such as NHS patient facing staff and care home staff.
The lateral flow tests can return results within 30 minutes, without needing to be sent to a lab.
NHS Test and Trace will now work with each local authority on an expanded community testing plan appropriate for them. This support will be rolled out during national lockdown restrictions, being kept closely under review.
Lee Sheppard, Director of Corporate Affairs and Policy at Apetito said: “Apetito and its sister company Wiltshire Farm Foods has a critical role in providing food during the Covid crisis. We serve some of the most vulnerable and at risk in hospitals, care homes, nurseries and schools and at home through Meals on Wheels and Wiltshire Farm Foods. During Covid, our services are more important than ever before, as many of our vulnerable customers may be solely reliant upon us for their meal provision.
“Ensuring our front-line services are able to continue to operate is therefore crucial. Working with the government to rapidly implement a mass testing programme across our manufacturing and distribution sites has built resilience into our business – as well as reassuring our staff and customers that we were doing everything possible to support their safety whilst at work.”