Testing capacity for those with Covid-19 symptoms has increased almost five-fold in six months, from 100,000 a day at the end of April to 500,000 a day by the end of October, with plans to go even further by the end of the year.
The Government has opened over 680 test sites, reducing the median distance travelled for a test to 2.6 miles.
Testing has focused on symptomatic testing, testing in areas with outbreaks and protecting those most at risk. Those efforts will continue but the use of testing is now being broadened to identify those showing no symptoms who can infect people unknowingly.
Plans to introduce frequent testing have been submitted as an alternative to self-isolating for those who have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19. Instead, contacts will be offered regular tests as an alternative to isolation and only have to self-isolate if they test positive.
The priorities for the expansion in asymptomatic testing are:
NHS patient-facing staff (increasing the testing offer to test high-contact staff twice a week) which is already underway
Care homes staff and residents (increasing the frequency of testing to twice-weekly for staff and weekly for residents) to go live in December
Care home visitors (testing will be available for up to two visitors per resident to be tested twice a week in all care homes) pilots are underway, national roll-out to begin from early December
High risk extra care and support living staff and residents (twice weekly testing for staff and weekly for residents) to go live in December
Registered domiciliary care staff (testing available weekly) to start roll-out immediately
Other social care settings (testing other home care workers including personal assistants) phased introduction from late December
Food manufacturing plants (beginning weekly testing for all staff) pilots underway, national roll-out in December
Closed settings including prisons and asylum centres (weekly testing for all staff and prisoners) pilots underway, phased introduction to start in December
Vaccine/testing operational staff (weekly testing for key staff in operational delivery and the supply chains) to go live in December
They are based on areas where the most vulnerable in society need to be protected and where more positive cases are expected to be found.
The Government is working to increase capacity further into 2021, as well as looking to enable further delivery of tests in the private sector and in partnership with universities. All of this capability will help the government to target measures to find cases quicker than before and break chains of transmission.
Pilots for rapid testing will continue in schools, colleges and universities, and specific one-off events. This includes testing university students before they travel for Christmas, starting from November 30, as well as supporting universities to establish sustained testing regimes.