All areas placed under tier 3 restrictions when England’s national lockdown ends next month will get military support to provide rapid community Covid testing, Boris Johnson is to pledge.
The announcement comes following a trial in Liverpool, where infections were surging ahead of nationwide restrictions, earlier this month. Local leaders have suggested the programme has helped to identify hundreds of asymptomatic cases.
Using rapid lateral flow tests – producing results in 30 minutes – the testing regime in the city has seen over 200,000 people being tested and contributed to a “substantial fall” in coronavirus cases, No 10 said.
Addressing MPs on Monday, the prime minister will outline a return to a tougher version of the regional tiered approach to control the virus when national restrictions are lifted in just under a fortnight.
He will say that leaders of local authorities placed in tier 3 – the most severe level of measures – will be able use test and trace and the armed forces to help administer extensive community testing.
An additional £7bn will also be provided for test and trace services – taking total expenditure this year from £12bn to £22bn.
The government added that repeat testing will also be trialled in Liverpool so contacts of people who test positive will not have to self-isolate for a 14-day period providing they are not found to be infected themselves.
Downing Street suggested contacts will be offered the chance to be tested every day for a week and will not need to quarantine unless they test positive for Covid-19. The trial, to begin in Liverpool on Monday, will be extended across the NHS and care homes in December if successful before being rolled out nationwide in the new year.
Additional testing for all staff working in food manufacturing, prisons and the vaccine programme will also be offered weekly from next month.
Speaking on Monday, the prime minister will say: “The selflessness of people in following the rules is making a difference. The virus is not spreading nearly as quickly as it would if we were not washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and so on.
“And in England, where national measures came into effect at the start of this month, the increase in new cases is flattening off’.”
“But we are not out of the woods yet,” he will add. “The virus is still present in communities across the country, and remains both far more infectious and far more deadly than seasonal flu.
“But with expansion in testing and vaccines edging closer to deployment, the regional tiered system will help get the virus back under control and keep it there.”
It is not yet known which areas are destined for tier 3, with ministers preparing to outline that on Thursday.
But Downing Street has said a greater number of areas are expected to enter the higher tiers in order to preserve the gains against Covid-19 made during the lockdown.