LONDON: The UK government on Thursday laid out a series of measures to be put in place to ramp up testing for the novel coronavirus as the daily Covid-19 hospital death toll spiked by 616 to hit a total of 18,738.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said that though the daily rise in the toll was lower than previous days, it was important not to forget any one of the victims of the deadly virus and continue to strictly follow the social distancing norms in place to control its spread.
“They will not be forgotten. We must retain our resolve and follow social distancing rules – they are working. To lift the measures too soon and to risk a second peak will be a mistake and undo all the hard work that has been done,” Hancock said during the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday.
The minister, who has set a 100,000 coronavirus tests to be carried out daily by the end of this month, said that testing capacity has increased to 51,000 a day as he laid out a “test, track and trace” formula to be applied as the lockdown measures are gradually eased across the country.
“From tomorrow (Friday), any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment on Gov.uk themselves, directly. This also applies for people in essential workers’ households too who need a test. It’s all part of getting Britain back on her feet,” said Hancock.
Results of these tests will be sent out by text, with people who cannot go online able to apply for the free of cost tests through their employer. There will be more than 30 test sites across the UK, with home tests kits also being introduced as well as 48 mobile testing sites for the more vulnerable such as care homes with the help of the Armed Forces.
Hancock said the government is putting the infrastructure in place to be prepared to roll out contact tracing, or someone’s exposure to the virus, on a large scale when it is time and a new national health service (NHS) contact tracing smartphone app is also being tested for that purpose.
“If you become unwell, you’ll be able to tell the NHS with this app and then this will send an alert to other users,” said Hancock.
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, joined the cabinet minister to explain the kinds of tests that are being put in place.
He said there are mainly two types of test – the swab test to assess someone for the novel coronavirus and the treatment they might require if they are positive, and an antibody blood test, which determines if someone has already had the virus and may be immune to it.
Newton said the current focus is on the swab test to try and control the spread of the virus until a proven antibody test is found.
“Testing capacity has been increased exponentially,” said Newton, who is the UK’s national coronavirus testing coordinator.
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said at the briefing that it is clear that transmission rates are down and social distancing measures are having a “very big” effect.
“I would just urge as we enter the phase where the plateau has been reached, slight decrease we can see, we continue to make sure that we enrol patients in clinical trials so we get the answers to the critical questions about which medicines may work,” he said.