ovid tests that give a result in about 15 minutes could offer a “freedom pass” to allow millions of Britons to return to day-to-day life, it emerged today.
The Government is reportedly considering buying 200 million of the “lateral flow” tests, of which 60 million would be available in January.
Leaked documents seen by the Daily Telegraph suggested that a deal would be signed next month to acquire 192 million lateral flow tests, which cost about £5 each, by next March.
This would pave the way for people who tested negative in the morning being allowed to attend football matches, theatres and pubs.
Official sources said the figures were “indicative only and may be subject to change” but confirmed plans for a “massive increase” in testing capacity — the so-called Moonshot strategy.
London boroughs that were left off an initial government list of priority areas said this had been an “oversight” and that tests would now be made available.
But it came as experts today cast doubt on the accuracy of the tests, warning that between one in four and one in two asymptomatic people with covid may not have the virus detected.
The Government claims the Innova antigen test that is being used in the two-week mass screening pilot in Liverpool detects 76.8 per cent of cases of covid — and up to 95 per cent in people who have a higher “viral load” and thus are more likely to be infectious.
A Department of Health spokesperson said it was “massively increasing our testing capacity, both through current swab testing and new, rapid lateral flow tests”.
Havering, one of 12 London boroughs to be omitted from the national roll-out of lateral flow tests to councils, said it had now been included in the first priority group.
Mark Ansell, Havering’s director of public health, said: “We’re pleased with the outcome as it means that people who may be infected and infectious but without symptoms can get tested and take the necessary actions, and ultimately help us in our fight against the virus.”
It came as Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “really important not to let the Government off the hook” over its handling of the pandemic just because a vaccine was likely to be available shortly.
City Hall is drawing up targets to help decide which tier the capital should enter after lockdown lifts on December 2.
Mr Khan said there had been a slowing in the increase in cases but numbers had yet to fall – and hospital figures were still heading in the wrong direction.
The latest daily figures show 2,053 new cases in London and 1,084 covid patients in the capital’s hospitals, of which 179 were on ventilators.
An additional 33 deaths were announced in London yesterday, taking the total within 28 days of a positive covid test to 6,624.
Mr Khan, speaking at a Reuters Newsmaker webinar yesterday, said: “We are still seeing an increase in hospital admissions and [patients in] ventilated beds.
“What we need to see by December 2 is the reproduction [R] number below one and the virus going down. That will lead to us being able to lift these restrictions.
“The key thing, though, is for this time to be used to get a proper testing regime in place. The good news is that we have managed to negotiate with the Government to get for our boroughs additional testing capacity for asymptomatic testing, as you have seen piloted in Liverpool.”
He said he wanted a “one London” approach across all 33 boroughs and added: “I’m keen to lift restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.”