The first wave of Tier 3 areas to receive the government’s community testing offer have been confirmed today (December 12) with Thanet included in the list.
The government says that when combined with existing measures, this will help put Tier 3 areas on a route out of the toughest restrictions.
More than 100 local authorities are engaged in the community testing programme with more rollouts due to begin in the new year.
The government says roughly one in three people have the virus without symptoms so could be spreading the disease without knowing it. Broadening testing to identify those showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly, and break chains of transmission.
With its targeted approach, community testing aims to reduce the prevalence of the virus in the highest risk areas. Based on their in-depth knowledge of their local community, local authorities have created community testing plans, taking into account detailed prevalence data and demographics.
More than 1.6 million lateral flow tests will be immediately delivered for use in December with many more to follow.
Government support will be provided to support community testing programmes for a minimum of 6 weeks, with more Tier 3 local authorities due to join the community testing offer over the coming weeks and into 2021.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am really pleased to announce the first areas embarking on enhanced community testing programmes – after the successful work in Liverpool. With one in three people with coronavirus showing no symptoms, increased community testing is a vital additional tool at our disposal to help identify those who are infected and infectious, but unaware that they might be spreading the disease.
“Community testing will be very important in helping the areas where levels of the virus are highest to drive down infection rates and ultimately will help areas ease tougher restrictions.
“This is just the start, and we are working quickly to roll out community testing more widely as soon as more local teams are ready. I urge all those living in areas where community testing is offered to come forward and get tested.”
General Sir Gordon Messenger, Chief of Operations, said: “We want to extend our thanks to the more than 100 local authorities who have engaged so quickly and comprehensively, allowing us to take forward the first stage of the community testing programme, and our operational team will begin to roll these out from as early as next week.
“We continue to work extensively with Local Authorities on their proposals to expand the programme to more areas over the coming weeks and months, increasing testing services available to communities.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “While we continue to make fantastic progress on the rollout of a vaccine, we cannot afford to become complacent about the threat of coronavirus, which continues to remain a real danger within our communities.
“Community testing is one of the most powerful tools we have to break the chain of transmission and drive down the infection rate in areas like mine where the virus remains prevalent, and I would encourage everyone in my South Thanet constituency to get tested so together we can keep the virus under control.
County Councillor Karen Constantine, who represents Ramsgate, said: “I wrote to KCC leader Roger Gough on 26 November seeking more detail on the proposal to test in Thanet. Despite a polite reminder I have received no response from Roger. This simply isn’t good enough under the current circumstances.
“I want to see both testing and vaccinations in Thanet at speed and at scale. Our high rates of Covid mean that urgent action needs to be taken. I welcome the involvement of the Army as their logistics know how will aid us.
“However, how are we going to tackle Thanet’s twin issues of poverty and low pay? We saw in Liverpool that poorest people did not volunteer to be tested. Only 1 in 25 came forward. In Thanet far too many people are struggling financially. Very few can afford to isolate on paltry statutory sick pay rates.
“The Government need to address this issue, as a positive test means our residents will have to make hard decisions, to pay rent or to eat. We need to be urging our government to provide better care, wrap around care. KCC need to address the clear inequality gaps that are now clear.”
Community testing builds on the nearly 1.5 million lateral flow test kits which have already been delivered to 90 local authorities across all levels of tier restrictions to date, through the Directors of Public Health programme.
The government said extensive clinical evaluation has been carried out on the lateral flow tests by Public Health England and the University of Oxford which show these tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community.
Asymptomatic testing works alongside the existing PCR testing service for those with COVID-19 symptoms as part of the NHS Test and Trace testing offer. With over 700 test centres across the country, including 79 drive-through sites, 386 local test sites, 20 satellite test sites, 258 mobile testing units, and home testing, the average distance a person travels to visit a test site is now 2.3 miles.
List of local authorities
North East Derbyshire
Stockton on Tees
Folkestone and Hythe
Tonbridge and Malling
Blackburn with Darwen
Nuneaton and Bedworth