Hancock confirms mass Covid testing for 67 local authorities in England with care homes ‘top priority’

Mass coronavirus testing to help detect asymptomatic cases will be rolled out in 67 local authorities in England, the Health Secretary has confirmed.

Matt Hancock told MPs that he had written to directors of public health across the country over providing “10% of their population per week” with tests.

An initial 600,000 lateral flow test kits are being issued to certain local areas in the coming days, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said, as part of the Government’s plan to expand asymptomatic testing for Covid-19.

Some 10,000 tests will be made available to each area to help them start testing priority groups, which will then be followed up with a weekly allocation.

The new lateral flow tests, which have been used in a mass testing pilot in Liverpool, have a turnaround time of under an hour.

Areas due to receive the tests include Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Luton and several London boroughs.

Lateral flow tests have been available since Friday for people who live and work in Liverpool and do not have symptoms.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Hancock said: “The next step is to roll out this mass testing capability more widely.

“So I can tell the House that last night I wrote to 67 directors of public health who have expressed an interest in making 10,000 tests available immediately and making available lateral flow tests for use by local officials, according to local needs, at a rate of 10% of their population per week.

“That same capacity – 10% of the population per week – will be made available to the devolved administrations too.”

The DHSC said directors of public health had been prioritised for the first phase of rapid community testing based on the local prevalence of Covid-19 and expressions of interest to the department.

But any director who wants to start rolling out local testing using lateral flow tests can do so by contacting the DHSC.

The department said local teams could direct and deliver testing “based on their local knowledge”.

Coventry City Council, which is among the local authorities to be part of the mass testing programme, welcomed news of additional tests.

Liz Gaulton, the city’s director of public health, said: “Anything that will help in the battle to reduce the number of positive cases in the city is to be welcomed.”

George Duggins, Labour leader of the council, welcomed the initial batch of 10,000 tests destined for the city but warned against complacency.

He said: “Although this news of the additional testing for the city is welcome, it is noticeable it comes with no additional funding for rolling it out or implementing, which means additional expense to all local authorities.

“We will of course do that, but all local authorities need to be recognised and reimbursed for the considerable work they are all doing in helping to fight the pandemic.”

Wolverhampton’s director of public health, John Denley, said the lateral flow tests would “help us to break chains of transmission much more quickly”.

He added the city “expressed an interest” in bringing testing to Wolverhampton after observing results of the Liverpool pilot and said tests would be provided “in the coming days”.

Vaccinations for care home staff and residents are top priority

Vaccinations for care home residents and staff are the “top priority”, the Health Secretary has said.

In a statement, Matt Hancock updated the Commons on the news that the UK has secured 40 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in development by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech, which has shown to be 90% effective in preventing the disease.

Later, Conservative MP Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) asked for an “absolute reassurance” there will be enough vaccinations for all care home residents and staff.

Responding, Mr Hancock said: “The top priority according to the clinical analysis for this vaccine is the residents of care homes and the staff who work to look after them so well.

“They are in the very first categorisation because they’re the most vulnerable to this disease.”

Former Conservative cabinet minister Damian Green asked whether family members of care home residents could receive Covid tests to help them be reunited with loved ones.

Mr Hancock said the Government was working to tackle this “conundrum”, adding: “We need to keep people in care homes safe but at the same time of course we want to allow as much visiting as can be safe.”

Earlier, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth asked for families of loved ones in care homes to be given “priority access” to lateral flow tests, telling the Commons: “So they can go into the care home, see their loved ones and even maybe hold their hand or hug them.”

On the vaccine, Mr Ashworth said it is a “moment of great hope in a bleak, dismal year that has shattered so many families” and he expressed cautious optimism.

The Labour frontbencher asked for the Government’s working assumption of the proportion of the population that needs to be vaccinated to establish herd immunity and bring the R below one.

Mr Ashworth went on: “As we vaccinate the most vulnerable, there will be less people at risk and deaths and infections will come down.”

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