Coronavirus testing to begin for some NHS staff

The Canary

CORRECTION (16:00 2 April 2020): this story originally stated that 113,777 people have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK; this was incorrect. The correct figure at the time of printing should have been 13,777.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) tests for NHS frontline staff are to be trialled this weekend. These are part of a wider roll-out to help those given the all-clear from the disease to return to work. The move comes after prime minister Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus and has gone into self-isolation.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the government was working in a “new alliance” with universities, businesses and researchers to boost testing capacity. A total of 759 people have already died in UK hospitals after being diagnosed with coronavirus. Meanwhile, 13,777 have tested positive and hundreds of thousands more are thought to be infected.

Along with Johnson, health secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed he has coronavirus. And England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has exhibited symptoms.

Who will be tested?

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said the tests would initially be focused on staff working in intensive care, A&E and GP practices and those running ambulance services.

MPs on the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee were warned earlier this week that NHS staff rotas were under strain. Workers have been self-isolating when showing coronavirus symptoms, such as a temperature or cough.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the expanded testing will be free. The aim appears to be to clear those getting a negative result to return to work.

Testing facilities

Commenting on the testing plans, Gove said on 27 March:

This will be antigen testing – testing whether people currently have the disease – so that our health and social care workers can have security in the knowledge that they are safe to return to work if their test is negative.

These tests will be trialled for people on the front line starting immediately, with hundreds to take place by the end of the weekend – dramatically scaling up next week.

The government plans to open a laboratory to analyse samples this weekend. It will be able to carry out about 800 tests at designated sites in hotspot areas such as London.

Temporary buildings are erected for coronavirus testing for NHS workers in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures in Chessington, Greater London

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