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A new trial of rapid, mass Covid testing has begun in hospitals and will soon be rolled out to schools, universities and care homes, Downing Street has announced, in the latest attempt to push ahead with the so-called Operation Moonshot.
The pilot scheme is under way with tests of asymptomatic NHS staff at hospitals in Manchester, Southampton and Basingstoke, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said, and in the coming weeks this will be extended to hospitals in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle.
The trial will then begin testing people in schools, universities and care homes in the worst-affected regions, the spokesman said without specifying which these were.
Two types of tests will be used. Hospitals will use lamp tests, a swab and saliva method that delivers results in 60 to 90 minutes.
Schools, universities and care homes will use lateral flow tests, a swab test that does not need processing in a laboratory and gives a result in less than an hour, and often significantly less.
The spokesman declined to say how many tests would be sent out over the course of the various pilots, or whether such tests could be used, for example, to see whether university students were safe to return home for Christmas. “This is a pilot, and obviously the purpose of a pilot is to see how this might work,” he said.
It is the latest incarnation of what Johnson announced in September as Operation Moonshot, a £100bn plan to deliver up to 10m tests a day, seen by ministers as the best way to bring back some sort of more normal life before an effective vaccine for coronavirus is fully available.
By showing that asymptomatic people do not have Covid, such huge-scale testing could allow workplaces to operate more normally or be used to bring crowds back to theatres and sports venues by testing them before they arrive.
However, an initial trial of such a system in Salford, Greater Manchester, intended to regularly test a quarter of a million people, was paused and then scaled back, casting doubt on its viability.
At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Johnson reiterated his hopes for mass testing, but pointedly did not use the “moonshot” moniker.
One potential issue with the rapid tests is a high percentage of false positives. In the new trial, if someone shows up positive they will be sent for one of the longer-standing tests, where results take a day or longer. Only if they test positive via one of these tests will people move into the system of contact tracing.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Operation Moonshot: pilot of rapid Covid tests under way in NHS hospitals | Health