Mass testing to be rolled out across 66 local authorities, minister confirms


Mass coronavirus testing will be rolled out across 66 local authorities, the Health Secretary has said.

Matt Hancock said he had written to every director of public health in England on Monday offering to make available the new lateral flow tests which have been used in the Liverpool mass testing pilot.

Areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands will receive the new tests, Mr Hancock said on Tuesday morning.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) later released a list of areas to be sent the tests, which includes Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Luton and several London boroughs.

Lateral flow tests, with a turnaround time of under an hour, have been available since Friday for people who live and work in Liverpool and do not have symptoms.

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said 66 local authorities had already expressed an interest in the tests and he was expecting more to sign up.

Soldiers at The Exhibition Centre in Liverpool,
Soldiers at The Exhibition Centre in Liverpool, which has been set up as a testing centre (Peter Byrne/PA)

He added: "I can confirm that we are rolling out the sort of mass testing we are seeing in Liverpool, and indeed we earlier piloted in Stoke-on-Trent, across 66 local authorities.

"Last night I wrote to the directors of public health of all local authorities in England saying we can make available these brilliant new lateral flow tests that give results in 15 minutes, and we can make them available to directors of public health right across the country.

"Sixty-six expressed an interest in the first instance, I'm now expecting a whole load more."

Mr Hancock also said that mass testing, like a vaccine rollout, would be across the UK not just England.

He added: "The UK Government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.

"The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK."

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said the "much more versatile" lateral flow tests would be rolled out in Nottinghamshire as well as "across Yorkshire, the West Midlands, other parts of the North West and the whole of the North East and other parts".

The Government said on Monday that some 600,000 lateral flow test kits will be issued to directors of public health across England in the coming days.

The initial batch will be followed up with a weekly allocation of the tests, equivalent to 10% of their population.

Directors of public health were prioritised for the first phase of rapid community testing based on the local prevalence of Covid-19 and expressions of interest to the DHSC.

On Friday, queues built up outside the new test centres which opened at midday, with people waiting around 45 minutes outside the Liverpool Tennis Centre – one of the six facilities – before it opened.

Liverpool's director of public health, Matt Ashton, on Saturday said the mass testing was showing positive signs after thousands of people were tested on the first day of the pilot scheme.

The programme aims to test up to 50,000 people a day once fully operational, he added.

The city's mayor, Joe Anderson, on Monday said 23,170 people have been tested for coronavirus in the city since midday on Friday, with 0.7% testing positive.

The DHSC said on Monday that Liverpool has now set up 16 sites for asymptomatic testing, a number of mobile test units and is delivering home testing kits across the city.