Covid: Rapid tests for asymptomatic people to be rolled out as vaccine programme expanded

Covid testing
Asymptomatic people are to be targeted in the Covid testing expansion. Credit: PA

People without Covid-19 symptoms are to be targeted for coronavirus testing in England and vaccinations are set to be ramped up this week.

It comes as the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital is at a record high in England, while the official coronavirus death toll for the UK passed 80,000 on Saturday and lab-confirmed cases hit more than three million.The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said that expanding the Community Testing Programme to more people without symptoms is “crucial given that around one in three people” who contract Covid-19 are asymptomatic.

The DHSC said councils would be encouraged to test those unable to work from home during lockdown – a move likely to include police officers, supermarket workers and taxi drivers.

Lateral flow tests, which can return results in as little as 30 minutes, are at the heart of the programme, the eligibility of which has now been “expanded to cover all 317 local authorities”, the DHSC said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said targeted asymptomatic testing followed by isolation was “highly effective in breaking chains of transmission”.

But doctor Angela Raffle, a consultant in public health with the University of Bristol Medical School, said increasing lateral flow testing “is very worrying”.

“Any benefit from finding symptomless cases will be outweighed by the many more infectious cases that are missed by these tests,” she said.

“Already outbreaks are known to have occurred because people have been falsely reassured by a negative lateral flow result, leading them to attend work whilst having symptoms.”

Some 500,000 over-80s will receive a letter this week telling them to book an appointment to get their Covid vaccine. Credit: PA

Meanwhile, as the vaccine rollout gathers pace, more than half a million over-80s are due to receive invites this week to sign up to receive a jab.

The first 130,000 invites were due to arrive over the weekend, as the government strives to meet its target of offering inoculations to almost 14 million vulnerable people in the UK by mid-February.

These people include the over-50s, the clinically extremely vulnerable, and frontline health and social care workers.

Only once all these people are vaccinated and Covid deaths and cases are beginning to fall, can the current lockdown be eased.

Of the weeks until then, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “There are deeply challenging weeks ahead, but today signals another significant step forward in the race to protect the public, and defeat the virus.”

Some experts have branded the current lockdown measures not strict enough, in the face of the more transmissible variant which has spread rapidly in many parts of the country.