More workplaces providing essential services during the current lockdown will be able to offer rapid Covid-19 testing to their employees, which the government hopes will detect coronavirus in people not showing symptoms.
Businesses with more than 50 employees will now be able to test staff that are providing essential services and who cannot work from home. Previously, the lateral flow tests were only available to organisations with more than 250 staff.
More than 112 organisations across almost 500 sites are offering rapid, regular workforce testing, and more than 2.5 million lateral flow tests have been distributed by the government.
The government hopes that by expanding its rapid workplace testing programme it will find more positive cases and break the chain of infection among workers providing essential public services.
Lateral flow tests will be provided to organisations free of charge until at least 31 March 2021.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Employers should regularly test their staff, and this drive across government to raise awareness and encourage more businesses to introduce rapid testing for employees is incredibly important. When you consider that around one in three people have the virus without symptoms and could potentially infect people without even knowing it, it becomes clear why focusing testing on those without symptoms is so essential.
“We are already working with many employers to scale up workforce testing, spanning the food industry, retail sector, transport network, and across the public sector too. I strongly urge businesses and employees across the country to take up this offer of rapid testing to help stop this virus spreading further.”
Employees must continue to work from home if possible.
Transport for London (TfL) has opened four sites offering testing to frontline operational employees not displaying Covid-19 symptoms. As of 29 January TfL staff had taken 2,173 tests, identifying 28 positive cases in asymptomatic individuals.
Dr Samantha Phillips, head of health and wellbeing at TfL, said: “We have been part of a Department for Health and Social Care pilot whereby employees can volunteer to do twice weekly rapid antigen testing.
“We have had an enthusiastic response to the pilot and employees are finding it reassuring, particularly if they have vulnerable relatives at home or family members who are also key workers. Identifying asymptomatic employees has also helped us in our efforts to protect the welfare and safety of all our team members working on the frontline.”
The Metropolitan Police is in the process of opening seven testing sites, while asymptomatic testing is set to be offered by numerous other police forces including Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Dorset.
Testing is also taking place in fire and rescue services, Border Force, utility companies, food producers, veterinary medicine and supermarkets.
The government has also opened an asymptomatic testing facility in the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster to provide rapid testing for civil service staff working in key departments.
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Businesses across the country have been working extremely hard to keep their workforces safe during the pandemic, with retail, manufacturing and energy companies among those already taking up the offer of workplace testing.
“I urge even more employers to do the same to help stop the spread of the virus and protect our NHS. We want to be able to reopen the economy and recover our way of life as soon as it is safe to do so, and large-scale workplace testing will complement our work in getting the British people vaccinated.”