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Mass testing for coronavirus in 66 areas - but not in Norfolk or Waveney

PUBLISHED: 11:54 10 November 2020 | UPDATED: 14:59 10 November 2020

Health seceretary Matt Hancock during a Downing Street briefing Picture: PA Wire

Health seceretary Matt Hancock during a Downing Street briefing Picture: PA Wire

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Mass coronavirus testing will be rolled out across 66 more local authorities - but not in Norfolk and Suffolk yet, the government has confirmed.

Members of the military use Anfield stadium as part of the mass testing taking place in the city of Liverpool, as a pilot for mass testing in the city. Pic: Peter Byrne/PA WireMembers of the military use Anfield stadium as part of the mass testing taking place in the city of Liverpool, as a pilot for mass testing in the city. Pic: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Health secretary Matt Hancock said he had written to every director of public health in England on Monday offering to make available new lateral flow tests which have been used in the Liverpool mass testing pilot.

However, Norfolk County Council has submitted an expression of interest to pilot mass testing and public health bosses also hope the region could get access to a “significant” number of tests each week - with more detail to be revealed later this week.

More than half a million rapid-turnaround lateral flow tests will be sent out by NHS Test and Trace to local public health leaders this week, signalling the next phase of the government’s plan to expand asymptomatic testing for COVID-19,

Areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands will receive the new tests, Mr Hancock said. While Essex is among 66 local authorities which will benefit, nowhere in Norfolk or Suffolk is among that initial number.

Lateral flow tests, with a turnaround time of under an hour, have been available since Friday for people who live and work in Liverpool and do not have symptoms.

Test kits will be issued to over 50 directors of public health across England this week, to enable local teams to direct and deliver community testing based on their local knowledge.

Each will receive a batch of 10,000 antigen lateral flow devices as part of a new pilot to enable them to start testing priority groups.

Directors of public health will determine how to prioritise the allocation of these new tests, based on the specific needs of their communities, and will determine how people in the local area are tested.

The initial 600,000 batch will then be followed up with a weekly allocation of lateral flow antigen tests.

While Norfolk is not part of the initial roll-out, council bosses are keen to pilot such an initiative.

A Norfolk County Council spokeswoman said: ““We have submitted an expression of interest to pilot mass testing in Norfolk and we are waiting to hear the outcome.”

Before the new lockdown, Norfolk was in the lowest level for coronavirus restrictions, while the places where it will be done had higher rates and tougher restrictions.

But Stuart Keeble, director of Public Health Suffolk, said they had been informed Suffolk would get access to “a significant number of tests” each week.

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He said: “Suffolk is not among the 66 local authorities initially invited by the government to take part in the mass testing programme.

“We have, however, just learnt that Suffolk will be given access to a significant number of tests each week.

“This is a new announcement and we expect to learn more on Friday, especially clarification on the numbers of tests we may expect and the logistics of how this can be delivered locally.”

The use of the lateral flow devices to test Coronavirus, with results coming back within the hour, will be an extremely valuable asset in fighting the virus. I look forward to learning more about the roll-out and the benefit this programme will undoubtedly bring to Suffolk.”

Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said 66 local authorities had already expressed an interest in the tests and he was expecting more to sign up.

He added: “I can confirm that we are rolling out the sort of mass testing we are seeing in Liverpool, and indeed we earlier piloted in Stoke-on-Trent, across 66 local authorities.

“Last night I wrote to the directors of public health of all local authorities in England saying we can make available these brilliant new lateral flow tests that give results in 15 minutes, and we can make them available to directors of public health right across the country.

“Sixty-six expressed an interest in the first instance, I’m now expecting a whole load more.”

Mr Hancock also said that mass testing, like a vaccine rollout, would be across the UK not just England.

He added: “The UK Government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.

“The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK.”

Liverpool’s director of public health, Matt Ashton, on Saturday said the mass testing was showing positive signs after thousands of people were tested on the first day of the pilot scheme.

The programme aims to test up to 50,000 people a day once fully operational, he added.

The city’s mayor, Joe Anderson, on Monday said 23,170 people had been tested for coronavirus in the city since midday on Friday, with 0.7pc testing positive.

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