The government will increase the number of people tested for COVID-19 to 25,000 hospital patients a day, Public Health England (PHE) has announced.
The increased capacity is expected to be ready within four weeks, with highest-priority cases being tested first.
The announcement follows a meeting at Downing Street last night (March 17), where the Prime Minister and health secretary promised industry leaders that they would be given whatever support they need to help government increase testing capabilities across the country.
The Prime Minister also called on companies to work with the government to rapidly develop a test to establish whether people have developed immunity. This will help get NHS and other critical public sector staff back to work as fast as they can.
A PHE spokesman said the increased testing will also include developing a point-of-care swab test outside of hospitals, so people with suspected symptoms can quickly find out if they have coronavirus.
Since the end of February, there has been a robust surveillance programme in place. PHE is testing a sample of the population to help understand the level of virus circulating in the community.
This robust surveillance determines what proportion of the population is affected and is used by modellers to estimate where we are in the pandemic and to assess the impact of the measures that have been taken, the spokesman said.
Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Public safety is my top priority, and radically ramping up testing for coronavirus is a key part of our plan to protect lives.
‘We are already among the best in the world for coronavirus testing and today we are launching a national effort to increase our testing capability even further.
‘Our aim is to protect life, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS – so it is right that we prioritise testing for those most at risk of severe illness. We will always do the right thing at the right time, based on the best scientific advice, and will do whatever it takes to protect life.
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