Whole cities and towns to be tested in case of local Covid outbreak using 90 minute procedure

Entire cities will be tested for Covid to contain local outbreaks using on-the-spot tests that give results in just 90 minutes.

Starting next week, the tests will be routinely used to check hospital and care home staff and patients, but there are plans for more than a million tests a day by the time winter arrives.

Ministers believe the revolutionary new tests, which can be processed by portable machines, will see off the danger of another national lockdown by enabling them to test everyone living in towns or cities where there is an outbreak, swiftly isolating those who have the virus.

Until now, tests have had to be sent off to laboratories, often by post, where they then take a minimum of four hours to process, meaning a 24-hour turnaround time is the gold standard.

By processing tests on the spot, much larger numbers of people can be tested much more quickly, allowing the swiftest possible action to contain outbreaks at source.

They are likely to be used at airports to screen out people with Covid as they enter the country and could be used to cut quarantine times.

Teachers will also be randomly tested to determine whether reopening schools in September has any effect on transmission rates.

The tests can detect flu as well as Covid, meaning people who have Covid-like symptoms will know whether they are suffering from the more common illness and can avoid self-isolating. It follows a successful pilot of the 90-minute tests in Southampton.

The first of the tests to come on stream, supplied by Oxfordshire-based Oxford Nanopore, will be able to process 15,000 tests per day on a portable desktop machine, or 2,000 tests per day using a handheld machine. They do not require scientific experts to operate them, meaning the Government can train lay people to operate as many machines as are needed. The first batch of 450,000 tests will be available from next week.

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