Testing Liverpool for Covid-19 - How will it work?

People queuing outside a walk-in coronavirus test centre at Allerton Library in Liverpool amid rising cases across parts of England, with the latest weekly infection figures showing Knowsley and Liverpool have the second and third highest rates, at 498.5 and 487.1 respectively.
People queuing outside a walk-in coronavirus test centre at Allerton Library in Liverpool Credit: PA Images

The Government has announced plans for city-wide coronavirus testing of the people of Liverpool.

But what does it mean and how will it work?

  • What has the Government announced?

Hundreds of thousands of new, rapid turnaround tests will be deployed to Liverpool to pilot regular mass testing in England.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement that the pilot "will help to inform a blueprint for how mass testing can be achieved and how fast and reliable Covid-19 testing can be delivered at scale".

The aim is to use mass testing to find asymptomatic cases in order to help prevent and reduce transmission in the community.

  • Who can ask for a test?

Anyone living or working in the city can be tested regularly from Friday, even if they have no symptoms.

  • Why Liverpool?

The DHSC says the pilot is happening in Liverpool "at the request of and in close collaboration with local leaders".

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, who lost his brother to Covid-19 last month, said local leaders had made it clear to the Government that they are "keen that we should be considered for any new strategies to tackle the worrying rise in Covid-19".

Liverpool has one of the highest rates of infection in the UK and it is hoped that the pilot will help control the spread of the virus.

It could also have been chosen for the pilot because it has already faced weeks of social restrictions having been place in Tier 3 last month .

The Beatles statue in Liverpool is spray cleaned to battle the spread of coronavirus. Credit: PA

However, figures from PHE published on the Liverpool council website suggest the city is doing better. Data extracted covering testing up to 30th October 2020 show that the total number of confirmed cases for the last 7 days is 1,748, a decrease of 680 cases on the previous week.

  • What kind of tests will be used?

The pilot will use a combination of tests.

Existing PCR swab tests will be made available weekly and fortnightly. And lateral flow tests will be introduced, which can turn around results in an hour without needing to be processed in a lab.

The DHSC also says the pilot will use 'LAMP' technology in Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for NHS staff. LAMP - loop mediated isothermal amplification - is a new type of testing technology which provides the ability to deliver significant volumes of tests.

  • How many people will get the faster tests?

At this stage, it is hard to say.

The DHSC said further detail would be released by Liverpool City Council this week on how residents and workers will be able to access the tests, and did not give any more information on how regular the testing would be.

Mr Jenrick said he did not know the proportion of people in Liverpool who would be using the faster test.

He said: "We will provide as much testing as we can, we’re increasing the amount of capacity across the country to levels that are not seen in many, if any, developed countries today."

Credit: PA
  • Where can people get a test?

Testing will be carried out at new and existing sites across the city, including in hospitals, care home settings, schools, universities, workplaces and using at-home kits.

People can book a test online, by walk-up, or by invitation from the local authority.

Liverpool City Council will set out later this week how residents and workers will be able to access the tests.

  • How will people get their test results?

Results will be received from NHS Test and Trace via text and email. Those who test positive and their contacts will be asked to self-isolate in the usual way.

  • How often will people be able to be tested?

The exact details are yet to be revealed but Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said people could be tested on a "regular basis".

  • Will this be confined to Liverpool?

Liverpool is the first city in England to have mass testing.

It is a pilot scheme designed to see whether testing a whole city can work.

Ministers hope to roll out the system to other towns and cities if it is successful.

People queuing outside a walk-in coronavirus test centre at Allerton Library in Liverpool. Credit: PA images

The Prime Minister said that, depending on the success of rapid turnaround tests in the pilot, the aim is to distribute millions of them between now and Christmas to “empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas”.

Boris Johnson said: “These tests will help identify the many thousands of people in the city who don’t have symptoms but can still infect others without knowing.

“Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas and empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas.

“It is early days, but this kind of mass testing has the potential to be a powerful new weapon in our fight against Covid-19.”