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People who work in jobs where they are at higher risk of Covid-19 will be tested for the disease regardless of whether they have symptoms.
The new pilot scheme, announced by the Department of Health on Thursday, will see thousands of workers, including taxi drivers, cleaners and shop workers checked for coronavirus.
It comes amid widespread criticism that the government’s testing regime is not reaching enough people or building a clear enough picture of the contagion in the UK.
Focus has also shifted in recent days to Leicester, the first area subject to a local lockdown, where cases have spiked in recent weeks and local leaders have complained huge gaps in testing data left the city exposed.
Meanwhile, despite emergency measures for the hospitality sector and housing market in chancellor Rishi Sunak’s mini-budget on Wednesday, critics point out that consumer confidence will not recover unless the government’s track and testing system is ramped up.
New government figures on Thursday also revealed that a total of 31,421 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing system during the first five weeks of its operation.
Of this total, 23,796 people (76%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts, while 6,645 people (21%) were not reached.
A further 980 people (3%) could not be reached because their communication details had not been provided.
The figures cover the period May 28 to July 1.
Executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, Dido Harding, said: “We are committed to continually improving NHS Test and Trace, to reach more people at risk of passing the virus on as quickly as possible. This week we have seen test turnaround times improve further, with the majority of positive cases reached by contact tracers in under 24 hours. Anyone with symptoms can easily book a test, expect rapid results, and will hear promptly from NHS Test and Trace if they are tested positive.
“I continue to applaud all those who have played their part, got a test after experiencing symptoms, and responded to the service. I urge anyone contacted by NHS Test and Trace to follow the advice they receive to protect their families and communities.”
For tests taken at regional test sites, which includes drive-through and walk-through testing centres, 91.8% of people received their result within 24 hours in the week ending July 1, up from 70.2% in the previous week.
For tests taken at mobile testing units – which test essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons – 89.6% of people received their result within 24 hours, up from 57.6%.
And for tests undertaken at “satellite” test centres at places such as hospitals or care homes, 25.7% of people received their result within 24 hours, up slightly on 24.6%.