Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Monday his plan to step up the UK vaccination rollout with mass testing across the entire English population, to identify those who are unintentionally infectious and could unknowingly spread the virus.
The Johnson government is betting that relentless and frequent testing for as many people as possible, including those who feel perfectly fine, will help break chains of transmission, alleviate future epidemics and put people back to work and a life normal.
The Prime Minister has promised that simple, free testing will help stop epidemics in their tracks, so we can get back to seeing the people we love and doing the things we love.
From Friday, residents of England will be offered side flow test kits, which can be used at home, with a nasal and throat swab, and give results in under 30 minutes. The regional governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales may soon follow suit.
Tests can be ordered by the National Health Service (NHS) or picked up from pharmacies or testing centers, or from employers.
The Prime Minister will present the mass testing program at a 10 Downing Street press conference on Monday evening.
As we continue to make good progress on our immunization program and our roadmap cautiously eases ongoing restrictions, regular rapid testing is even more important to ensure these efforts are not in vain, Johnson said. in a press release.
The program remains controversial among some scientists, who question whether the billion-dollar costs and efforts are really worth it, and they warn of the large number of false positives and possible negative outcomes. They also say that without money and better incentives for people who test positive to stay home, most won’t.
Speaking to the BBC, Health Minister Edward Argar said the tests would be paid for from a $ 50 billion NHS fund to support its struggling testing and tracing effort.
A previous mass testing experiment, undertaken in Liverpool last year, showed Britain’s most widely used rapid test kits. detect 49 percent covid-19 infections in asymptomatic people, compared to a more expensive and time-consuming polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
The health minister said the latest data showed less than one in 1,000 tests gave a false positive result.
Proponents of mass testing say it doesn’t really matter at the population level if inexpensive testing misses some cases, provided the test helps alert large numbers of people with no symptoms that ‘they could be infected and cause them to stay at home.
People who test positive will be asked to isolate themselves with their household. They will also be encouraged to get a more accurate PCR test, and if it says they are not infected, they are free to go about their business.
The mass population testing program was first launched last year as Operation Moonshot, a plan to test 10 million people every day, or everyone in the country every week, at a cost of $ 130 billion. This program called for people to be tested before going to work, attending sports matches or other mass gatherings.
At that time, many scientists were skeptical that it won’t work, said Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, who dismissed Moonshot as the work of bureaucrats and consultants, not scientists.
Giving 10 million tests a day will certainly be difficult. Currently the UK records 1.2 million daily tests.
Now, mass testing appears to be the cornerstone of the government’s efforts to restart the economy. Britain is just starting to pull out its third national lockout.
Along with testing, the government is considering introducing what officials call coronavirus status certifications, or vaccine passports.
The certificates would indicate whether an individual has been vaccinated, recently tested negative for the virus, or has natural immunity due to a previous infection in the past six months.
The proposals are expected to pass votes in parliament, where 70 members recently launched a campaign to oppose covid-19 certifications.
Erin Cunningham in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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