MATT HANCOCK: Covid testing is vital to help us get back to normal

MATT HANCOCK: Covid testing is quick, easy and a vital tool to help us get back to normal

We begin 2021 knowing that vaccines are our way out of this pandemic. Human ingenuity and phenomenal scientific advances make it a case of when, not if, we will return to normal life.

The cavalry is here, thanks to our vaccination programme. Across the UK we have already protected more people through vaccinations than any other European country.

While we accelerate the vaccination programme, we must keep this virus under control. This has been made all the harder by the new variant, which spreads from person to person so much more easily.

So alongside the pivotal work on vaccine rollout, we must not lose focus on our system of testing, which we know is another important weapon in our fight against this virus.

Matt Hancock says it is a question of when and not if we can return to our normal lives, thanks to the vaccine

We know that by isolating positive cases, testing can bring down the R number by between 0.3 and 0.6 – helping break chains of transmission and save lives.

Since last autumn, we have been regularly testing our colleagues in health and social care and those working in critical infrastructure, to give them peace of mind and to keep them and their colleagues safe. Working with councils we have built community testing in the areas where prevalence is highest to help find more cases sooner, and we now have more than 400 sites in community centres, village halls and places of worship.

This targeted approach has yielded results, picking up more cases on average than the national average and allowing us to bear down hard on the virus in a local area. Today I am able to announce that testing for those without symptoms will be available everywhere in England, and we are working closely with devolved administrations, so every corner of the UK can benefit from this life-saving work.

Testing matters because it helps us all find who has the disease, and so breaks the chains of transmission. This expansion comes at a critical time. We recently had to introduce difficult but vital restrictions to deal with a highly transmissible new variant of coronavirus. It is vital that everyone stays at home, unless they have a reason why they can’t.

But, of course, many key workers cannot work from home. People who keep vital services going are not able to. So even in lockdown, testing matters. We must use this lockdown to stop cases from rising by finding as many of those who have the disease, and insisting on total isolation. And we will be targeting this testing programme at those who cannot work from home and who have to leave home during lockdown, providing them with another layer of protection and helping us to drive down the spread of the virus.

Many large employers are playing their part in this national effort too, like John Lewis and Tata Steel, which are already doing regular workforce testing, alongside the NHS and social care.

I want to see more of this rapid testing available to employers whose staff can’t work from home. I’ve asked NHS Test and Trace to work closely with other Government departments, employers and local authorities to make this happen.

This critical national infrastructure for testing will be so important as we ease restrictions, so we can use the confidence provided by accurate testing to find the virus, limit its spread and help us return to normal life.

One of the greatest breakthroughs in our testing programme was the use of lateral flow devices, which can pick up infectious cases and turn around rapid results.

So far, most of these tests have been shipped in from abroad, but we now have signed a contract with SureScreen Diagnostics, based in Derby, to deliver the first approved lateral flow tests made right here in Britain. The tests are easy to take and give a result in under 30 minutes. I took one on Friday, and thankfully I was negative.

Two million of these rapid tests have already been manufactured, and will be used from this week.

This is great news for our country, not only because it allows us to test more people, it also allows us to boost British industry and further enhance our world-leading life sciences sector. While we deliver our vital programmes for testing and vaccines, using the best of human ingenuity to keep us safe for the long-term, we must all play our part and follow the rules that we know can get this new variant of the virus under control.

If we do this, then we know that 2021 will be a year of recovery, and a year when this nation gets back on its feet once more.

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