Henry Bodkin, The Telegraph, November 30, 2020
Ethnic groups could be prioritised for rapid coronavirus testing as part of Government plans to help local areas to move out of the toughest Tier 3 restrictions.
Under the new community testing plan, which will come into force after lockdown ends on Wednesday, local officials will be entitled to single out specific groups, areas or types of employee in order to crack down on asymptomatic spread.
They can also offer people discounts to local shops and businesses as a means of incentivising those who may feel healthy to get tested.
The new rules additionally make provision for so-called “freedom passes”, whereby those who have received two negative tests results could be allowed into pubs and restaurants and to sporting and cultural events, even though their area remains in Tier 3.
Announcing the new measures in Downing Street, General Sir Gordon Messenger, the head of operations for the new programme, said the strategy was no longer about “mass testing”.
“This is about community testing,” he said. “It’s about tailoring to the needs of the local area, and that might be geographically specific or it might be ethnic community specific.”
Despite Sir Gordon’s comments, the new framework also allows authorities to embark on whole population testing of all non-symptomatic individuals over 11 years old.
However, the real advantage of the new lateral flow tests, which give a result in under one hour, could be to focus intensively on specific geographic areas with high prevalence, as well as types of industry.
Meanwhile, the government has announced that 20 minute rapid coronavirus tests trialled in Manchester and Salford are effective in identifying positive cases and breaking chains of transmission.
The test was found to have a sensitivity of 79 per cent and specificity of 100 per cent, meaning it is effective in identifying cases who are infectious and are most likely to transmit the disease.
It follows a summer of localised outbreaks, such as in Leicester, where transmission was traced to certain types of workplace.
Although Tier 3 areas will be entitled to apply for the community testing support from the end of lockdown, Sir Gordon said limited manpower and resources meant many were likely to have to wait until January.
Deciding who gets the support first will be based on infection rates, how long the area has spent in Tier 3 and the quality of local plans to deploy community testing.
Sir Gordon also said that the level of military support seen to carry out the successful community testing pilot in Liverpool would not be possible everywhere. “I can say with confidence that cannot be replicated around the country,” he said.
The framework encourages local leaders to come up a set of incentives to encourage the population to take up testing.
“Examples of such initiatives could include discount schemes with local businesses, partnerships with community organisations or local employers, or door-knocking campaigns,” it says.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said: “By expanding our testing to include people showing no symptoms, we are finding more positive cases more quickly and breaking chains of transmission.
“Up to a third of people have coronavirus without symptoms, so it is incredibly important to be testing those who could be infecting others unknowingly.
“When more people come forward for regular community testing, we have a much greater chance of driving down prevalence of the virus and saving lives.”