Concerns around the number of people who may be infected with Covid-19 but be unaware, or asymptomatic, has prompted the pilot project to test thousands of workers in jobs where they are more at risk of coming into contact with people who may infected.
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Thousands of taxi drivers, cleaners and other high-risk workers are to be offered coronavirus tests, the government has said.
The news comes as the latest data on England’s test and trace service showed the service was still unable to contact almost a quarter of people who tested positive for the virus.
Data released on Thursday also shows more than 100,000 people are not receiving their test result within 24 hours, with the vast majority of these due to delays with home-testing kits.
Under the plans staff working for businesses including taxi company Addison Lee, BT, Boots and Mitie, which employs large numbers of cleaners, will be given 10,000 tests each. Local councils in Bradford, Newham, Oldham and Brent will also be offered more tests for groups they designate as high-risk.
Any worker who does not have symptoms will have either a home test or use local walk-in testing sites.
Anyone who tests positive will have their details passed to the test and trace service to identify their contacts and to advise them to self-isolate.
Estimates suggest as many as 40 per cent of people can be infected with Covid-19 and not be aware. They can they spread the virus to others. This is one of the biggest concerns for health chiefs trying to prevent a second wave of infections.
Data for the latest week of the test and trace service showed 3,366 people, or 77 per cent, of those who tested positive for coronavirus were reached by the test and trace service and asked to share details of their close contacts.
A total of 71 per cent of those contacts, 10,547 people, were reached and advised to self-isolate.
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The Department of Health and Social Care said 92 per cent of test results from its network of 70 tests sites were returned within 24 hours, with 90 per cent of results from its mobile testing units being returned in under 24 hours. Only 69 per cent of home test results were returned within 48 hours.
Executive chair of NHS Test and Trace Baroness Dido Harding said: “We are committed to continually improving NHS Test and Trace, to reach more people at risk of passing the virus on as quickly as possible. This week we have seen test turnaround times improve further, with the majority of positive cases reached by contact tracers in under 24 hours. Anyone with symptoms can easily book a test, expect rapid results, and will hear promptly from NHS Test and Trace if they are tested positive.
“I continue to applaud all those who have played their part, got a test after experiencing symptoms, and responded to the service. I urge anyone contacted by NHS Test and Trace to follow the advice they receive to protect their families and communities.”