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Coronavirus: Testing opens for millions more people in England

The Royal Marines at a brand new testing centre in Taunton

Image caption

There are now 43 regional testing sites across the UK, according to the government

Coronavirus testing is available for millions more people in England from today after the government loosened rules on who can apply.

Expanded eligibility now means care home residents and staff with or without symptoms can request testing.

While people over 65 and anyone who must leave home to go to work can now book a test if they have symptoms.

No 10 aims to hit its target of 100,000 tests per day by Thursday, with just over 43,000 taking place as of Monday.

The expansion in eligibility beyond just essential workers and hospital patients means 25 million people can now book through the government’s test-booking website, testing coordinator Prof John Newton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Symptoms of coronavirus include a new dry persistent cough, and a fever or raised temperature above 37.8C.

Testing capacity has now increased to 73,400 a day, according to Downing Street, though home testing kits and appointments at regional centres in Wales ran out around an hour after Wednesday’s slots launched for booking at 08:00 BST.

But differences between the UK nations on testing emerged as Wales said it would not follow England in testing care home residents and staff who are not displaying symptoms.

Who can be tested in England?

  • Hospital patients suspected of having Covid-19
  • All those working on the frontline in health and social care (with or without symptoms)
  • Patients in the NHS and residents in care homes (with or without symptoms)
  • All other essential workers with symptoms
  • Anyone over 65 with symptoms
  • Anyone who goes into work because they cannot work from home (for example, construction workers) and has symptoms
  • Anyone who has symptoms and lives with someone who meets any of the above criteria

Source: HM Government

It comes as the government prepares to publish up-to-date figures for coronavirus deaths, including for the first time those in the community, such as in care homes.

Office for National Statistics data released on Wednesday showed a third of all coronavirus deaths in England and Wales are now happening in care homes, based on reporting up to 17 April.

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Media caption“We’ll be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England” – Matt Hancock

First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 250,000 tests a day target remained “an aspiration”, in response to questions from Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons.

Mr Raab said that while the quarter-of-a-million goal was still in place, he would not confirm when it would be reached.

He added: “The key point is the 100,000 milestone is only the first stepping stone towards testing, which is essential to the wider testing, tracking and tracing regime we’ll need as we transition to the second phase (of combating the epidemic).”

Mr Johnson missed Prime Minister’s Questions after he and fiancee Carrie Symonds announced the birth of a healthy baby boy in London.

Eligibility criteria for testing varies around the UK.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said all patients over 70 who are admitted to hospital for any reason will now be tested for Covid-19.

In Northern Ireland, testing has begun in some GP practices and will also be expanded in hospitals and care homes.

Image caption

Regional coronavirus testing sites have been created across the UK

Wales has adopted a needs-based approach to testing for NHS and “critical” non-NHS workers, but Health Minister Vaughn Gething said the country would not roll out tests to care home residents and staff who are not displaying symptoms, unlike England.

In addition to civilian testing, more than 800 sailors have been tested onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, and its departure from dock has been delayed.

‘Massive expansion in testing’

This represents a massive expansion of who is eligible for testing – and means we are now one step away from allowing everyone to access a test if they have symptoms.

That will be crucial when lockdown restrictions are eased as part of the “test, track and trace” strategy to keep coronavirus at bay.

It is being made possible by the roll-out of home-testing kits and mobile units staffed by the armed forces.

The problems experienced getting more people tested have – to some extent – been because the network of drive-through testing centres have not always been in convenient locations.

There is plenty of lab capacity to process the tests now the three mega labs are up-and-running in Milton Keynes, Glasgow and Cheshire.

The expansion has also allowed the government to do something that could prove crucial in tackling the epidemic in care homes – the testing of residents and staff without symptoms.

A big concern is that the virus has been able to get a foothold in care homes via people transmitting it before they develop symptoms or if they are asymptomatic.

But promising something is one thing – delivering it is another.

While the capacity looks like it will be there to test 100,000 a day by the end of the month, the numbers actually getting tested are currently less than half that.

‘Transparency’

Meanwhile, Office for National Statistics data showed there were 2,000 coronavirus care home deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 17 April, double the previous week.

It brings the total number of deaths in care homes linked to the virus since the start of the pandemic to 3,096.

Coronavirus deaths in hospitals across the UK, have reached 21,678.

The health secretary said that from Wednesday the government will publish daily figures on deaths in care homes and the community.

He said the change aimed to “bring as much transparency as possible” to the figures and “add to our understanding of how this virus is spreading day by day”.

In other developments:


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