Ministers are to launch a mass Covid testing blitz this week offering every person in England the chance to take a rapid test twice a week in a bid to reopen society and kickstart the economy.
It comes as Boris Johnson will today set out the Government’s plans to further loosen coronavirus restrictions in the coming weeks, including plans to reopen the hospitality sector and the high street next Monday.
The Prime Minister is due to confirm trials of the use of Covid passports at a series of test events, which will see crowds return to sporting showpieces, such as the FA Cup final in May.
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He will also unveil a new traffic light-style scheme for when international travel can once again resume from mid-May.
Ahead of plans to dramatically ease lockdown measures from next week, every person will be given two lateral flow tests a week, regardless of symptoms.
Ministers have already provided free rapid testing to every business and household with schoolchildren in the country, and it is hoped the wider rollout will enable the Government to keep control of the virus.
The tests, which provide a result within 30 minutes, will be available through a home ordering service, workplace or school testing programme, or by collecting one at a local test site.
A new “pharmacy collect” service is also being launched, which will provide an additional route to regular testing.
Mr Johnson said the rollout will help stop Covid-19 outbreaks “in their tracks”.
He said: “As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our road map to cautiously easing restrictions under way, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.”
The NHS Covid-19 app is also due to be updated from 8 April, with everyone in a group now required to check-in when entering a hospitality venue, rather than just one person.
The app will also require users who test positive to share their venue history in a “privacy-protecting way” via the program, the Government said.
Those who have been at a venue on the same day as several others who have since tested positive for Covid-19 will receive an alert advising them to book a test immediately, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser to NHS Test and Trace, said the mass testing of the entire population would help “break chains of transmission”.
“These tests are effective in detecting people that are infectious and therefore most likely to transmit infection to others. They are another tool we now have to help maintain lower infection rates,” she said.
Labour backed the decision to roll out population-wide testing, but warned it needed to be backed by sufficient financial support for those forced to isolate.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “People who are sick with Covid are still forced to choose between self-isolation or feeding their families. Lack of adequate sick pay and support remains a dangerous hole in our defences against this horrific virus.”