Government announces it will work with industry to rapidly increase COVID-19 testing in the UK
The Government has announced it will increase the number of people tested for coronavirus to 25,000 hospital patients a day.
Officials are working to significantly increase the number of tests that can be conducted by Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS.
The extra capacity is expected to be ready within four weeks, with the highest-priority cases being tested first.
The announcement follows a meeting at Downing Street last night, where the Prime Minister and Health Secretary promised industry leaders they would be given whatever support they need to help increase testing capabilities across the country.
The Prime Minister also called on life science companies to work with the Government to rapidly develop a test to establish whether people have become immune to the virus.
Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness
This will help get NHS and other critical public sector staff get back to work as quickly as possible.
The increased testing will also include developing a point-of-care swab test for use outside of hospitals, so people with suspected symptoms can quickly find out if they have coronavirus.
The UK has one of the most-sophisticated public health systems in the world and was one of the first countries outside China to have assured testing capability for the novel infection.
Over 50,000 tests for coronavirus have already been completed and it is anticipated that, with increased capacity to 25,000 daily, testing levels in the UK could soon exceed that in China.
Last week, the NHS and PHE increased testing to 5,000 a day and that number continues to increase. By next week it is hoped that testing will increase to 10,000 every 24 hours.
Since the end of February, there has also been a robust surveillance programme in place and PHE is testing a sample of the population to help understand the level of virus circulating in the community.
This robust surveillance determines what proportion of the population is affected – and is used by modellers to estimate where we are in the pandemic and to assess the impact of the measures that have been taken.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Public safety is my top priority, and radically ramping up testing for coronavirus is a key part of our plan to protect lives.
“We are already among the best in the world for coronavirus testing and today we are launching a national effort to increase our testing capability even further.
By working together with industry we can increase the country’s testing ability – allowing us to better map the spread of infection in the community and to protect our healthcare workers on the frontline of our response
“Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness.
“We will always do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice, and will do whatever it takes to protect life.”
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at PHE, added: “This is a timely boost to the UK’s testing capacity, which is a vital element in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By working together with industry we can increase the country’s testing ability – allowing us to better map the spread of infection in the community and to protect our healthcare workers on the frontline of our response.”