Councils for Tier 2 areas at “significant risk” of moving into England’s toughest coronavirus restrictions will be offered community testing in a bid to cut local transmission rates.
Local authorities in the “worst-affected” Tier 2 “high alert” areas will be invited to submit proposals to access rapid, regular testing to help prevent them being placed under Tier 3 measures, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Current Tier 3 areas will continue to be prioritised for community testing, with some 67 local authorities already signed up for a first wave of enhanced testing support and more rollouts expected in the new year, the department added.
More than 1.5 million tests have already been deployed to Tier 3 local authorities, with testing under way in Warwickshire, Darlington in the North East and Medway in the South East.
More than 500,000 tests are also to be immediately deployed to London’s boroughs, which moved into Tier 3 status on Wednesday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are expanding the community testing offer to Tier 2 areas at significant risk of moving into Tier 3.
“Community testing can help drive down transmission rates in areas subject to the toughest restrictions, and now these testing programmes can also play a role in preventing areas from moving into Tier 3.
“As many as one in three people who have the virus don’t show symptoms and could be spreading the disease without knowing it.
“Broadening testing to identify those showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly, and help save lives.
“The sooner we get this virus under control, the sooner we can ease these restrictions and get back to doing the things we love.”
In the capital, community testing initiatives will see the City of London prioritising key workers within the Square Mile, including those in social care, children’s services, the courts, schools, libraries and university staff.
Carers, volunteers and university students will also be prioritised.
In Tower Hamlets in east London, testing will focus on “harder to reach” community groups, including multi-generational households.
Hillingdon in west London will target locations with a higher prevalence of coronavirus, while Harrow, in the north west of the capital, plans to focus on the business community as well as general borough-wide testing.
Local authorities are able to request support for this additional testing for an initial six-week period, the Government said.
It explained that the decision over which Tier 2 local authorities are deemed to be at significant risk will be made as part of the ongoing review of England’s tier system.
This takes into account a range of epidemiological data, alongside other information, the Government said.