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Boris Johnson has said 100,000 critical workers will be given daily lateral flow tests to help keep essential services open.
The Prime Minister told Tuesday’s Downing Street press conference that firms working in areas such as food processing, transport and the Border Force are to be sent kits every working day from the start of next week.
It comes after No 10 recognised there were periods during recent days when tests had become unavailable online amid the massive wave of Omicron cases.
Critical workers will be able to take a test on every working day and the provision of precautionary testing will be for an initial five weeks, the Government has said.
Mr Johnson said: “The Government is acting to protect critical national services to keep supply chains open and fortify our NHS to withstand the pressures ahead.
“We’ve identified 100,000 critical workers in areas from food processing, to transport to our Border Force and from January 10 we will be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers available on every working day.
“We will be sending testing kits directly to these organisations and liaising with them on the logistics.”
Those who work in essential services, cannot work from home and are at risk of infecting each other can receive a test.
It includes those who work in national infrastructure, national security, transport, food distribution and processing, Border Force, police and fire services, electricity generation and test kit warehouses and surge labs.
The Government said this will help to isolate asymptomatic cases and limit the risk of outbreaks in workplaces, reducing transmission while Covid cases remain high.
However the Trades Union Congress (TUC) slammed the number of tests provided as “hopelessly inadequate”.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Key workers do their vital work in teams.
“Surgeons and nurses need cleaners and porters.
“Food supply needs producers, warehouse staff, drivers, and retailers.
“Ministers must explain who is left out, and what they should do if they can’t get tested.
“The Prime Minister has known about the shortage of tests for weeks.
“It beggars belief that he is doing so little, so late.”
England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty said lateral flow tests are a “very good guide actually to whether someone is at that moment infectious”.
When asked about the shortening of the self-isolation regime, Sir Chris said: “The reason that we feel it is a useful tool to allow on day six and day seven, someone is isolated because they know they’ve got Covid to day five and then they have a negative test on day six and a negative test on day seven, we have confidence they’re much less likely to be in any way infectious to other people if they then leave isolation than if they had not done those tests.
“So that’s the reason why adding those tests on allowed ministers to decide to move from 10 days isolation down to seven but the last two you do the lateral tests because they’re very predictive of how infectious someone is… obviously if they’re still positive, then they do need to stay in isolation until it goes negative.”
On PCR tests, Sir Chris added: “The PCR tests which are the other way of testing, they can remain positive for a long time after someone has had an infection, including beyond the point where they are infectious.
“So the reason that we find the PCR is extremely good because they’re very sensitive and they’re extremely because they tell you which type of variants of Covid, it has got many advantages, but the lateral flows are really good at helping to determine whether someone is infectious at that point to other people.”