Coronavirus: Testing expanded to over-65s and all care home residents in race to hit 100,000-a-day target
Matt Hancock announced the testing expansion at the Downing Street press conference (PA)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has unveiled a massive expansion in the eligibility rules for coronavirus testing as he tries to hit his target of 100,000 tests being carried out per day by the end of April.
The Health Secretary announced that everyone over the age of 65 and everyone people in their household can be checked for Covid-19, as well “all workers who would have to leave home in order to go to work”
The availability of tests will also be widened to include everyone living or working in care homes, even if they do not have any of the disease’s symptoms.
Mr Hancock also revealed that the Government will move to publish daily totals for the numbers of people dying in care homes, after criticism the true impact of the outbreak is being hidden.
It came as new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed there were 4,343 fatalities in a two-week period.
The Health Secretary told the Downing Street press briefing that a total of 21,678 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday, up by 586 from the day before.
He added: “I want to make sure we bring as much transparency as possible to important information like this.
“And so, from tomorrow, we’ll be publishing not just the number of deaths in hospital each day but the number of deaths in care homes and in the community too. This is something that wasn’t previously possible.
“This will supplement the ONS and CQC weekly publication and add to our understanding of how the virus is spreading day-by-day and it will help inform the judgements we may make as we work to keep people safe.”
On testing, the Cabinet minister said there is now the capacity for 73,400 per day, but that only 43,453 had been carried out on Monday, less than half the 100,000 figure Mr Hancock pledged to reach by the end of April, now just a few days away.
Part of the attempts to reach the target include increasing the dispatch of home test kits from 5,000 a day last Friday to 25,000 a day by the end of this week.
And access to testing is being expanded, Mr Hancock said.
“We started with hospital patients who’ve always had the access to tests right the way through, ramping up to include symptomatic NHS and social care colleagues and their households and then to all essential workers.
“Today, because we’ve been able to expand capacity, I can expand access further.
“Building on successful pilots, we’ll be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England and to patients and staff in the NHS.
“This will mean that anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not.
“I’m determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable. And we now have the capacity to go further still.
“So from now, we’re making testing available to all over-65s and their households with symptoms and to all workers who would have to leave home in order to go to work and members of their households again who have symptoms.
“So from construction workers to emergency plumbers from research scientists to those in manufacturing, the expansion of access to testing will protect the most vulnerable and help to keep people safe.”
Responding to the announcement, Labour's shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: “We are glad that that the Government has said it will now publish daily death rates outside hospital, including in care homes. What’s measured is what counts, and for families and care workers struggling to cope with this awful virus, every death counts.
“It is also welcome that Ministers have now committed to testing all care users and staff. This must apply to those who receive care in their own homes and to domiciliary care staff as well as those in care homes."
But the Labour frontbencher said "further action" was needed in care homes to :reduce the spread of the virus and keep care users and staff safe".
She said: "More needs to be done to ensure all care staff get the PPE they need and to ensure social care is properly funded to deal with the extra costs of the pandemic.
"The Government must also introduce a strategy for intermediate care, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by people who are discharged from hospital and help struggling care homes.”
Elsewhere at the press conference, government scientific adviser Angela McClean downplayed the prospect of a change in the Government's advice on face masks.
The Scottish Government on Tuesday advised the public to wear face coverings when leaving their homes as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of coronavirus.
But Professor McLean said: "The recommendation from Sage is completely clear, which is there is weak evidence of a small effect in which a face mask can prevent a source of infection going from somebody who is infected to the people around them."
She said the scientific advisory group's findings had now been passed on to ministers for them to make a final decision.
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