Everyone in England will be able to access free, regular, rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) testing from 9 April.
In a significant step forward, which paves the way for businesses and society reopening, anyone will be able to access free, rapid lateral flow tests (LFDs) for themselves and their families to use twice a week, in line with clinical guidance.
Rapid testing has so far been available to those most at risk and people who need to leave home for work, including frontline NHS workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families. From 6 April, the workplace testing programme will supply home test kits to companies with over 10 workers where it is not possible to set up testing on-site, due to a lack of space or because companies operate across multiple sites. Now rapid testing will be offered to everyone, with people encouraged to take regular tests to help prevent outbreaks and reclaim a more normal way of life.
One in 3 people with COVID-19 do not experience any symptoms and may be spreading the virus unwittingly. Rapid testing detects cases quickly, meaning positive cases can isolate immediately.
Getting a rapid test is quick and convenient. Over 100,000 businesses in England have registered their interest to provide rapid tests to their employees, and the offer of free testing is being expanded to companies with over 10 workers where on-site testing is impossible. The expanded regular testing offer for people without symptoms will be delivered through:
- a home ordering service, which allows people to order lateral flow tests online to be delivered to their home
- workplace testing programmes, on-site or at home
- community testing, offered by all local authorities
- collection at a local PCR test site during specific test collection time windows
- testing on-site at schools and colleges
A new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ service is also launching which will provide an additional route to regular testing. People aged over 18 without symptoms will be able to visit a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of 7 rapid tests to use twice a week at home.
The best route for testing can be found at NHS.UK/get-tested. If testing at home, individuals will need to register their results online or by calling 119. They should self-isolate if positive and order a confirmatory PCR test. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should book a test online or by calling 119.
Since rapid testing was introduced, over 120,000 positive cases that would not have been found otherwise have already been identified by LFDs. Recent analysis from NHS Test and Trace shows that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there is less than 1 false positive result. LFDs detect cases with high levels of virus and are very effective in finding people who don’t have symptoms but are very likely to transmit the disease. By making rapid tests available to everyone, more cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives.
Alongside the rollout of the vaccine, regular testing is going to be an essential part of the easing of restrictions as it will help us quickly suppress the spread of variants. Through new testing technology, positive cases of variants of concern are being detected faster than ever before. More people getting a test will increase NHS ability to identify and control variants.
The NHS COVID-19 app has been breaking chains of transmission to protect users and their communities since its launch in September, with over 22 million people downloading the app to date. Updates will be made to the NHS COVID-19 app in England to coincide with the offer of rapid testing for everyone.