Workers in key industries will be offered daily lateral flow tests, the prime minister announced yesterday.
Boris Johnson said that the government will provide 100,000 critical workers in England with free lateral flow tests so they can test themselves every working day. This requirement will initially run for five weeks from 10 January.
The government has identified a list of critical workers and will contact them directly, according to Downing Street, but indicated this is likely to cover Border Force employees, police, fire and rescue control room operators, electricity generation and people who work on the test kits themselves.
It added that other sectors that already receive tests from the UK Health Security Agency – such as care workers and NHS employees – will not be affected by the scheme, despite reported shortages of lateral flow tests across the UK.
Testing at work
The announcement comes as public services face crippling absences due to Covid-19 – either because employees have contracted the virus or are required to isolate due to close contact with someone who has it.
Figures published last week showed 24,632 staff at NHS trusts in England were absent through Covid-19 sickness or self-isolation on 26 December 2021.
The UK Health Security Agency also today (5 January) confirmed that individuals without symptoms will no longer need to confirm a positive lateral flow test with a PCR test, from 11 January onwards.
Under the current rules, someone who records a positive PCR test must isolate at home by law for 10 days either from when their symptoms started or when they received notification of a positive result.
In late December, the UKHSA reduced the time employees must stay in self-isolation from 10 to seven days, providing someone can show negative lateral flow test results on day six and day seven.
There have been calls to cut this even further, to five days, which is now recommended in the US, but these have so far been refuted by the UKHSA.
More than 187,000 new Covid-19 cases were recorded at the start of this week, leading to major staff shortages in many industries.
Rail operators have been forced to reduce or cancel services, while many schools reopened without enough teachers. More than 90 care home operators in England have declared “red alert” over staffing levels.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, the prime minister said he was confident England could “ride out” the current spike in Covid cases “without shutting the country down again”.
Dr Jennie Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, said of the new PCR rules: “While cases of Covid continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate Covid-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation.
“I’m really grateful to the public and all of our critical workers who continue to test regularly and self-isolate when necessary, along with other practical and important public health behaviours, as this is the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus and keeping our friends, families and communities safe.”
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