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Government expands asymptomatic Covid testing programme

by Sofia Lind
19 August 2020

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) will test 150,000 asymptomatic people every two weeks, up from a current 28,000, in a bid to map the spread of Covid-19 in the UK.

The Government said the expansion of the survey would ‘provide extensive, weekly data on the spread of infection, supporting rapid testing and diagnosis of Covid-19 both nationally and in areas of concern’.

To start with, ONS is set to prioritise North West of England for ramping up of testing, where recent outbreaks have led to local lockdowns in multiple areas.

The ONS is working together with the University of Oxford and the Departments of Health in all four UK nations on the survey, which tests for both current and past Covid infection among participants.

Letters have already been sent out to households inviting them to take part.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK National Statistician, said: ‘Vigilance is key to containing this pandemic and the extra data on the spread of infections and antibodies at local level will be invaluable to the planning of effective local responses.’

Meanwhile, the Public Health England announced that 10,000 health workers have now signed up to its SIREN study, which has the aim of determining whether people can be reinfected with Covid-19 after having the disease once. 

The study will follow the participants, via regular blood and swab tests, over the course of at least 12 months, and also look at the effect on immunity from factors such as ethnicity, age and gender. 

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also due to join the study, with recruitment of trial participants set to begin in the coming weeks.

PHE expects some preliminary results from the SIREN trial before the winter.

The Government has also announced a £2m funding injection to King’s College London’s Covid symptom tracker app ZOE.

A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse.