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Children under five years old will now be eligible for coronavirus tests, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary said the expansion in testing now means that “every single person who has symptoms of coronavirus can get a test no matter their age”.
Hancock spoke as he announced the NHS test and trace scheme, which will launch on Thursday at 9am.
The government hopes finding and isolating those with coronavirus symptoms and those they have been in contact with will help slow the spread of Covid-19.
It is nine days since the government announced it would expand the testing service to make anyone over five eligible, rather than just certain categories of key workers.
Hancock said the NHS in England now has the capacity to conduct 161,000 tests a day, telling the Downing Street briefing: “Because of that increased capacity, I can announce that we’re expanding eligibility yet further.
“From tomorrow, we’re expanding eligibility for testing to include the under-fives so that every single person who has symptoms of coronavirus can get a test, no matter their age.”
The expansion comes as the government roles out its NHS Test and Trace programme, which will be voluntary at first.
Individuals will be one phone call away from being told to self-isolate for up to a fortnight if a new army of 25,000 tracers identify them as having had “close contact” with others who have tested positive for the virus.
Under the system, “close contact” is defined as being within two metres of someone for more than 15 minutes without any protection such as a plastic screen or protective equipment.
Baroness Dido Harding, the former TalkTalk boss who is leading the test and trace programme, explained how it would work.
She said everyone in the UK would need to follow three steps:
- If you have symptoms of coronavirus – a fever, cough or loss of taste or smell, you must self isolate.
- You should then book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus, or by dialling 119. If you test positive, you will then be contacted by the Test and Trace service within 24 hours.
- NHS Test and Trace will then help you identify who you have been in close contact with and may have infected, and pass on their contact details. You will be instructed to self-isolate for 14 days, as will your contacts even if they feel well.
“We all have a part to play and it will only succeed if each of us does our bit,” she said.
“You need to follow these instructions.
“This individual and collective effort is vital if we are to keep the rate of infection down and carefully lift the lockdown.”