Rapid testing for key workers and all those who cannot work from home is set to launch across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough from this weekend to help track cases of Coronavirus and drive down transmission rates.
A number of sites are being set up across the county offering rapid tests to people aged 18 and over who have no symptoms of Coronavirus. It follows a commitment from the Government to test as many people who are key workers and/or cannot work from home as possible.
Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council have been allocated 100,000 tests in the next six weeks, with the potential for the pilot to be extended.
Around one in three people who are infected with Covid-19 have no symptoms and could be spreading the disease without knowing it. Broadening testing to identify key workers showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly, which helps break chains of transmission.
Initially there will be six sites across the county, with the potential to set up pop-up sites in areas of high need if required. Tests will be offered at no cost to the public.
Tests will be available in the following locations:
· The Hub, High Street, Cambourne, South Cambridgeshire, CB23 6GW - launches Wednesday 3 February.
· Queen Mary Centre, Queen's Road, Wisbech, Fenland, PE13 2PE - launches Thursday 4 February
· Soham Rangers Football Club, Julius Martin Lane, Soham, Ely, East Cambridgeshire, CB7 5EQ - launches Friday 5 February.
· Huntingdon, The Coneygear Centre, Huntingdon, PE29 1PE - launches Thursday 11 February.
· Cambridge, The Meadows Community Centre, 1 St Catherine's Rd, Arbury, Cambridge, CB4 3XJ - launches Friday 12 February.
· St Mark's Church, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, PE1 2SN - already operating.
Each site will be open 8am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday, apart from the Peterborough site which is open every day from 9am to 2pm and 4pm to 7pm.
Dr Liz Robin, Director of Public Health for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: "With around a third of people infected not showing any signs of the virus, it's important that we ramp up our testing of people who are symptom-free to break the chains of transmission.
"Most people should be staying at home at the moment and limiting all contact with anyone they don't live with, but we know there are large numbers of people across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough who have to leave home to go to work and they are the people we want to target with this testing.
"By testing these people on a regular basis - twice a week for at least six weeks - we can reduce the number of cases of Covid-19 across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, limit the number of people who might die or become very ill as a result of the virus and protect our NHS.
"However, it is not the testing itself that will reduce rates of transmission, but what people who are tested then go on to do. If people don't isolate after a positive result, then we won't reduce the spread of the virus. This is now a legal requirement. Equally, if people regard a negative result as a 'free pass' and ignore national guidance it will do more harm than good. While these rapid tests identify many people who are infectious with the virus, some people who are infectious may still get a negative test result. This is why it is so important people with a negative test result continue to socially distance and follow the lock-down rules, and to regularly access two tests a week if they are able to."
Lateral flow tests are a new kind of technology that can be used to test a higher proportion of asymptomatic people and do not require a laboratory to process the test.
The process of taking a test takes on average 15 minutes from arrival to departure.
Extensive clinical evaluation from Public Health England and the University of Oxford shows lateral flow tests do not detect all positive cases, but they can be helpful as part of a targeted testing programme to identify asymptomatic people quickly.
Everyone who takes a test, even if it is returned negative, must continue to follow the rules which includes leaving home only for essential reasons, limiting contact with people they do not live with and ensuring good practices where contact has to be made, such as social distancing, wearing a mask or PPE and hand washing.
Councillor Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire Council, said: "Offering rapid testing to people who cannot work from home is just one of number of ways we are working to reduce rates of Covid-19 in Cambridgeshire. For it to be a success, we need people to self-isolate if they test positive and to work with the national NHS Test and Trace team to identify their close contacts.
"If you are reluctant to self-isolate because you cannot afford to, or because of other factors, please get in touch and we can support you. We can break down any barrier that is preventing you from self-isolating.
"Regardless of your test result, please continue to follow the national guidance. You may test negative on a Monday, but by Tuesday you could be infected and passing the virus on to the ones you love."
Councillor John Holdich, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: "I urge everyone in our city who cannot work from home to access this testing and play their part in reducing rates of Covid-19 in Peterborough.
"We know it will require a commitment on your part to access a test twice a week, but by doing so you will be helping us to track cases and break the train of transmission.
"Please remember, if you get a positive test, we can support you to self-isolate. If you'll struggle to pay your bills we can help with a one-off grant and our support hub can assist in many other ways too.
"Above all else, we need you to continue following the national guidance, regardless of whether you've had a test recently or not. The rapid test identifies many people who are infectious, but not all of them, and you could develop symptoms within hours of taking it. So please, stay at home as much as possible and avoid all non-essential contact with those outside of your household."
Baroness Dido Harding, Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: "NHS Test and Trace continues to play a leading role in the fight against Covid-19. Increased community testing is a vital additional tool at our disposal to help identify those who are infected and infectious, but unaware that they might be spreading the disease.
"The work of Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council will be essential in driving down transmission rates. I urge all those living in areas where community testing is offered to come forward and get tested."
As part of the pilot, both councils will also be offering workforce testing where many staff are based on site and in key sectors such as food production. Groups who may be more vulnerable and therefore more likely to catch the virus will also be offered rapid testing.
Testing involving care home staff will continue to take place separately to the pilot.
People with symptoms will not be tested at the rapid testing sites. Anyone with one or more of these Coronavirus symptoms - a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste - should book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.