Tier 3 areas may have to wait until ‘January and beyond’ for mass testing

Some Tier 3 areas could have to wait until “January and beyond” for mass community testing, according to the programme’s head of operations.

General Sir Gordon Messenger said coronavirus testing for people without symptoms might not be possible everywhere “all at once”.

He said planning was “still very much under way” for the 23 million people going into Tier 3, but that capabilities would “sequence over time”.

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The Army helped in Liverpool – but such support won’t be available everywhere

Community testing – using tests that give a result in under 30 minutes – is credited as having enabled Liverpool to enter this week’s new regime at Tier 2.

Boris Johnson has said expanding the system across England is vital in cutting infection rates and allowing areas to move to looser restrictions.

Speaking alongside the health secretary at Number 10, Sir Gordon said he did not know how many people mass testing would reach to being with.

He said it would “vary from region to region and from area to area”.

“We are alive to the possibility that we will not be able to do this all at once, but we assess that local authorities are at varying levels of preparedness and readiness to do this,” he added.

“And therefore I can see this as an offer that will sequence over time and into January and beyond.

“The priority that we accord, the levels of support we give, will be based on the infection rate, how long those areas have been under harsh restrictions, how mature their plans are, how ready they are to deliver them.”

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Sir Gordon said ‘front runners’ for the testing programme would be identified in the coming days

Sir Gordon said “frontrunners” in terms of their ability to put on the testing programme would be identified over the next week.

The Army will also not be able to help implement community testing in every area, he added.

About 2,000 soldiers helped with the Liverpool scheme but such support will now be targeted.

“I can say with confidence that cannot be replicated around the country, and therefore the military support, along with all other types of central support, has to be targeted where it’s needed most and where it can have the greatest effect,” Sir Gordon said.

He said the testing programmes would be “delivered locally with considerable support from the centre”.

Matt Hancock said local authorities could get funding of up to £14 for each test carried out – as he used the Number 10 briefing to state that the pandemic was “back under control”.

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‘We’ve got this virus back under control’ – Hancock

A respected study found that infections have dropped nearly a third during England’s latest lockdown, with the greatest improvement in the North.

The React study of more than 105,000 volunteers estimated 1 in 100 people in England had the virus between 13 to 24 November, a drop from the 1 in 80 reported on 2 November.

Councils under Tier 3 will be able to apply for a six-week testing programme to try to identify asymptomatic people, the Department of Health and Social Care has said.

However, concerns over the accuracy of the Lateral Flow Tests being used for community testing has prompted Sheffield council to warn care homes not to use them.