Boris promises 500,000 tests a day by October and millions a day 'in future'
A new mass testing programme will deliberately try to identify people who are negative for coronavirus so they can move ‘freely’ in the community, Boris Johnson has said.
The prime minister promised the Government would carry out 500,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of October, and possibly millions of tests per day ‘in the near future’ if a rapid test kit becomes available.
In the absence of a vaccine, Johnson said people would be encouraged to get a test even if they didn’t show symptoms, with a future programme aiming to identify those who were both positive and negative for the virus.
The PM told a Downing Street press conference today: ‘Up until now, if you think about it, we’ve been using testing primarily to identify people who are positive so that we can isolate them from the community and protect high-risk groups. That will continue to be our priority.
‘We are working hard to increase our testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
‘But in future, in the near future, we hope, we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative, who don’t have coronavirus, who are not infectious do we can allow them to behave in a more normal way in the knowledge that they can’t infect anyone else with the virus.’
Johnson added that social distancing rules may not be necessary for people who test negative for the virus, but stressed that this was an ‘ambitious’ goal and not yet available.
The PM said rapid coronavirus tests, which can give a result in as little as 20 minutes, were crucial for mass testing. The tests are not yet readily available.
He went on: ‘We think, we hope, we believe, that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable, will become available. They may use swabs or saliva and can turn around results in 90 or even 20 minutes.
‘Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved. Literally millions of tests are being processed every single day.’
Johnson added: ‘That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives without the need for social distancing. Theatres and sports venues could test all audience members one day and let in all those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious.
‘Work places could be opened up to all those who test negative in the morning to behave in a way that was exactly as the world before covid. And those isolating because they are a contact [of someone with the virus], or quarantining after travelling abroad, could, after a period, be tested and released.’
The Government plans to trial a rapid testing programme in Salford next month using audiences in indoor and outdoor environments.
However, Johnson said he was ‘not 100% sure’ the rapid test programme could be rolled out nationwide because of ‘a number of challenges’, including whether there were even enough materials to manufacture the test and questions over a distribution network.
He warned that people should not get a coronavirus test if they are not displaying symptoms at this current stage.
He said: ‘I repeat this, that if individuals don’t have symptoms and have not been specifically advised to take a test, they should not be coming forward for a test because they could be taking a test away from someone who really needs it.’
The Government has been under fire in recent days after several people reported they could not get a coronavirus test despite showing symptoms for the virus.
Some of those who were able to get a test were told they would have to travel hundreds of miles from their nearest testing facility. The NHS said they were also dealing with a huge backlog at testing labs.
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