England trials population testing for COVID-19

England is to trial population testing for COVID-19 in places such as schools, colleges and busy public spaces.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the government has earmarked an extra £500 million ($552 million) to scale up testing and capacity to launch community pilots as fears mount about as second wave of infections during the winter months.

The population testing will be made possible by new test kits capable of giving results within 15 minutes or so.

A new community-wide trial in Salford is to launch immediately to assess the benefits of repeat population testing for coronavirus infections.

This will be based in commonly frequented public spaces such as retail, public services, transport and places of worship.

Other population testing trials include a pilot of the rapid 20-minute test in Hampshire, and a second pilot phase involving testing at Southampton University and four nearby schools.

The move has been backed by Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who now chairs the Health Select Committee.

“I would really want to expand the whole testing programme so we can almost get to a point where we are testing the whole population every week,” he said.

“As an intermediate step I’d want to have expanded it by now so that we’re at least testing all NHS staff and all teachers every week, so people can be absolutely confident when they’re using hospitals, when they’re sending their kids to school, that they are coronavirus-free zones,” he said.

According to Hunt, mass testing is the most effective tool against the virus before a vaccine is developed.

He argues that if mass testing is in place lockdown restrictions could be relaxed further as emerging cases would be detected and isolated.

“If you had population testing there’s no reason why you, theoretically, would need to have social distancing: you could pretty much carry on life as normal because you’d just know that everyone you’d mix with had been tested very, very recently,” he told ITV’s acting prime minister podcast.

The news emerged after Roche announced it will launch its SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test in late September in countries accepting the CE Mark.

Roche said the test, which could also be launched in the US under an Emergency Use Authorization, can reliably and quickly triage peopled suspected of having the disease with results ready in 15 minutes.

The test has a sensitivity of 96.52% and a specificity of 99.68%, based on 426 samples from two independent study centres, Roche said.

 

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