Everyone in England is to be given access to two rapid coronavirus tests a week from Friday, under an extension of the government’s testing programme.
The lateral flow kits, which can provide results in around 30 minutes, will be available for free at testing sites, pharmacies and through the post.
The move comes as part of efforts to quickly detect new and emerging ‘variants of concern’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Around one in three people who have COVID-19 show no symptoms, and as we reopen society and resume parts of life we have all dearly missed, regular rapid testing is going to be fundamental in helping us quickly spot positive cases and squash any outbreaks.
“The vaccine programme has been a shot in the arm for the whole country, but reclaiming our lost freedoms and getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.
“The British public have shown over the last year that they quickly adapt and always do what it is right in the interest of public health, and I know they will do their bit by getting tested regularly in the months ahead.”
It comes as Boris Johnson is due to meet the cabinet to sign off the next stage of lockdown easing in England, which will see non-essential shops reopen and pubs and restaurants start serving outdoors from 12 April.
Later, the prime minister will hold a Downing Street briefing, where he is expected to confirm countries will be graded under a traffic light system when international leisure travel resumes. He is also set to outline plans for coronavirus passports.
The schools testing programme, combined with the wider use of workplace testing, has led to a jump in the number of lateral flow tests carried out in England.
There were about 250,000 rapid tests a day taken in mid-February – climbing to more than a million a day by the end of March.
Tests can be accessed in a variety of ways:
• A home ordering service, which allows people to order lateral flow tests online to be delivered to their home
• Workplace testing programmes, on-site or at home
• Community testing, offered by all local authorities
• Collection at a local PCR test site during specific test collection time windows
• Testing on-site at schools and colleges.
• A new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ service is also launching which will provide an additional route to regular testing. People aged over 18 without symptoms will be able to visit a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of seven rapid tests to use twice a week at home.