One in four Britons could be tested for coronavirus to try to shorten the lockdown.
In a sign that ministers have finally accepted the urgency of mass testing, officials have agreed deals to buy 17.5million kits for use by mid-April.
They hope to identify contagion hotspots as well as people who are immune.
The tests would help get NHS staff back to work with screening of frontline workers, such as teachers and police officers, to follow.
Britain is currently conducting only ‘antigen’ testing – a swab that requires laboratory analysis. A drive through test facility is pictured above in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures, London
Medical equipment is pictured outside London’s Excel centre, which has been turned into NHS Nightingale Hospital. One in four Britons could be tested for coronavirus to try to shorten the lockdown
The programme could see movement restrictions lifted earlier than the six months suggested by the Government’s scientific advisers yesterday.
‘The top priority is randomised testing to establish how far the disease has spread,’ a Whitehall source said.
‘That is critical to understanding what we are dealing with and shaping our response.’
Officials have identified suppliers that can make the tests and have agreed ‘in principle’ to purchase 17.5million if they pass medical checks.
Britain is currently conducting only ‘antigen’ testing – a swab that requires laboratory analysis.
However the new ‘antibody’ fingerprick tests take 15 minutes to detect whether someone has had the virus.
In a sign that ministers have finally accepted the urgency of mass testing, officials have agreed deals to buy 17.5million kits for use by mid-April. They hope to identify contagion hotspots as well as people who are immune. An NHS worker is pictured above being tested for the virus in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures in London
The Government has been fiercely criticised for failing to prioritise testing, with the daily figures failing to yet hit 10,000. In Germany, by comparison, officials are testing more than 70,000 people a day
Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary, believes testing is key to the relaxation of social distancing measures.
Writing in today’s Daily Mail, he asks: ‘Is it too far-fetched to aim to be the first country that tests every single member of the population at home? In these extraordinary times, with our great British willpower anything is possible.
‘Mass social distancing will help flatten the curve, but only testing will save us from months, maybe years, of anguish and economic paralysis.’
As the UK’s death toll rose by another 209 to reach 1,288:
- Consultant Amged El-Hawrani became the first front-line NHS worker to die from the virus;
- Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries said it was likely to be three to six months before the lockdown was lifted;
- Boris Johnson continued to chair meetings from isolation in Downing Street;
- Rail journeys were down by 85 per cent and bus trips fell by three quarters;
- Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab prepared to unveil a deal with commercial airlines to repatriate tens of thousands of stranded British citizens;
- Rules were relaxed for two years to allow women to self-administer abortion pills at home rather than visiting a clinic;
- Michael Gove took a swipe at China, saying its failure to be open about the virus had hindered the world’s response;
- The number volunteering to help the NHS rose beyond the target 750,000;
- Labour MP Stephen Kinnock was criticised by police for making a birthday visit to see his 78-year-old father Neil.
Iceland has already carried out a population-wide testing programme and Norway announced one yesterday.
Germany to issue coronavirus ‘immunity certificates’ to people who have recovered
‘Immunity certificates’ are set to be introduced in Germany as part of preparations for the country to cease its lockdown.
Researchers want to bring in the documents for citizens not at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
It comes as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has secured a boost in poll ratings.
As part of Germany’s fight against the virus, scientists are using antibodies in test participants to find out which of them have had the illness and healed, Der Spiegel reports.
The team plans to test 100,000 people at a time, issuing documentation to those who have built up an immunity.
They will then use the information gleaned from the testing to assess how and when the lockdown should conclude.
Researchers will utilise the data as they advise the government on when schools will be re-opened and mass gatherings permitted once again.
Scientists fear that lifting restrictions too early – before the virus is in retreat –could lead to a second spike in deaths.
Paul Hunter, a professor of epidemiology at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘If you relax social distancing based on a levelling off of cases you could see a resurgence. So we have to be cautious about that because we just don’t know enough about what is going on.
‘But if we know, through mass antibody testing, that a large proportion of the population is immune, you could lift social distancing much earlier.’
Ministers decided earlier this month to reserve all Britain’s testing capacity for those in hospitals.
But that move has left officials ‘blindfolded’ in their response to the crisis, the World Health Organisation has warned. It has called on all countries to ‘test, test, test’.
The Government has been fiercely criticised for failing to prioritise testing, with the daily figures failing to yet hit 10,000. In Germany, by comparison, officials are testing more than 70,000 people a day.
Even front-line NHS staff were not being tested until this weekend, which meant 20 per cent were in self-isolation last week.
South Korea – initially one of the worst hit countries – managed to quickly control its outbreak by aggressively testing for the disease.
Germany yesterday announced plans for a testing programme that will see it issue 100,000 ‘immunity passports’ a month.
Professor Eleanor Riley, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Mass antibody testing will give us a much better idea of how widely the virus has spread in the population.’
Ocado buys 100,000 testing kits for staff costing £1.4million as supermarkets ramp up safety measures but vows to hand them to NHS workers if they are left without
By Lara Keay
Ocado has bought 100,000 coronavirus testing kits for its staff at a cost of £1.4million, but have promised to hand them to the NHS if they need them.
The food delivery company wants all of its workers to be tested regularly to ensure they are safe to drop off supplies to elderly or vulnerable customers who are ‘sheilding’.
Ocado claims 40,000 tests have already been delivered to stores across the UK, with 60,000 more to go, reports The Guardian.
Ocado has bought 100,000 coronavirus testing kits for its staff at a cost of £1.4million, but have promised to hand them to the NHS if they need them. Pictured: Customers social distancing in the queue outside Morrisons supermarket in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
But the firm refused to reveal where they have bought the tests, with questions raised over why supermarket staff have been able to get access to them before thousands of NHS frontline workers.
The Government has been slammed for its slow roll out of testing for staff, who are being forced to stay away from work if they or people in their household have symptoms, creating a devastating knock-on effect for patient care.
Public Health England has bought 3.5million testing kits, but these are currently only available for critical care staff and are taking time to reach other key hospital workers.
Private health firms have also come under fire for selling businesses test kits for as much as £295 each.
Meanwhile supermarkets Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have not yet announced any plans to swab their staff to see if they have the virus.
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens has said roll-out of testing will begin for frontline healthcare workers this week after some staff were sampled on Saturday and Sunday.
The food delivery firm refused to reveal where they have bought the tests (one pictured), with questions raised over why supermarket staff have been able to get access to them before thousands of NHS frontline workers
The latest letter states that key NHS staff and anyone they live with who is ill are first in line for testing.
It says hospitals should ‘start this week with those working in critical care, emergency departments and ambulance services, and any other high priority groups you determine locally.
‘We will then sequentially expand to other NHS staff groups as more tests are made available to the NHS, and ultimately into other essential public services including social care.
‘In the first instance, we ask that you identify those staff in these initial priority groups (including critical care, emergency departments and ambulance services) who are unable to work because of the requirement for 14-day self-isolation.
‘These are staff living in a household where another individual may have Covid-19.
‘Trust chief executives tell us that, while this is the right action for staff members to have taken, it is this group that is causing the greatest degree of absenteeism, potentially for no underlying clinical reason on the part of the staff member herself/himself.
‘NHS organisations will use these tests to allow key staff to return to work if the index case in their home is Covid-19 free.’
Trusts are told to identify staff or household members who need to be tested, ‘with a particular focus on testing the suspected coronavirus sufferer in a quarantined household which is shared with a key NHS staff member’.
Trusts should initially allocate up to 15 per cent of daily testing capacity for this purpose, and tests should be carried out as soon after symptoms develop as possible ‘to maximise the accuracy of the result’.
A share of the 15 per cent should also be made available for ambulance trusts and any other high priority groups determined locally, the letter says.