The government’s free workplace testing programme uses lateral flow tests that provide companies with a result in 30 minutes in a bid to prevent outbreaks as restrictions continue to ease across the country.
More than 9,000 businesses have already completed the sign-up process, and all other businesses are encouraged to register by 31 March, even if they are not yet open or are not able to start using the tests straight away.
The move is a vital part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of the national lockdown.
“Around 1 in 3 people with coronavirus do not have symptoms, which means they could be spreading the virus in workplaces without knowing,” the Department of Health and Social Care said.
“Rapid testing for people without symptoms detects cases quickly, meaning positive cases can isolate immediately, breaking chains of transmission.”
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New analysis by NHS Test and Trace shows lateral flow (LFD) tests to have a specificity of at least 99.9%. This means that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there is less than one false positive result.
“We have built a huge asymptomatic testing system from scratch, which is an essential part of our plan to reopen cautiously,” said Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care.
“This is a huge step forward in getting businesses back on their feet and helping to keep people safe.
He added: “With around 1 in 3 people with the virus not having symptoms, regular testing is essential to bearing down on the virus and identify new variants of concern as we work towards restoring normal life.”
Businesses have until 31 March to register for the government’s workplace testing scheme, which will remain free until the end of June.
Businesses of any size, including those with fewer than 50 employees, can now sign up to offer workplace testing. Those who need to leave home for work can also access regular testing through community testing, which is now offered by all local authorities in England.
Regular, rapid testing is already in place for millions of people across the NHS, care homes and schools.
The government has also confirmed twice-weekly testing using LFDs for free to all adults in households with nursery, primary, secondary school and college-aged children and young people, including childcare and support bubbles.
This is in addition to the 2 tests for all secondary and college students and staff per week. Staff at private, voluntary and independent nurseries also have access to rapid testing through their workplace.
It comes as more than 23 million people have been vaccinated (with a first dose) so far in the UK.
The official estimate of the R number — how many people each infected person then reinfects — is between 0.6 and 0.8 for the UK, with new infections falling by 4% to 4% per day.
On Friday, a further 6,609 people tested positive with 175 deaths within 28 days of a positive test reported.
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