UK to roll out rapid COVID-19 testing in Liverpool

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back towards10 Downing Street following a cabinet meeting in London, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The Cabinet meeting is held in the Foreign Office to allow for social distancing due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, rather than the normal 10 Downing Street. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

LONDON (AP) — A half-million people in the English city of Liverpool will be regularly tested for COVID-19 in Britain’s first citywide trial of widespread, rapid testing that the government hopes will be a new weapon in combating the pandemic.

Testing will begin later this week at sites throughout the city using a variety of technologies, including new methods that can provide results in an hour or less, the government said in a statement Tuesday. Everyone who lives or works in the city in northwestern England will be offered the test, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes mass testing will provide a way out of the coronavirus crisis, which has killed more than 46,000 people across the U.K. in Europe’s deadliest outbreak. England is scheduled to go into a second national lockdown on Thursday as the government struggles to control a second wave of infections that risks swamping hospitals and emergency rooms.

“These tests will help identify the many thousands of people in the city who don’t have symptoms but can still infect others without knowing,″ Johnson said. “Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas and empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas.”

Liverpool has one of the highest infection rates in England, with more than 410 cases per 100,000 people, compared to 225 per 100,000 for the nation as a whole.

Mayor Joe Anderson said he expects the program to last six to eight weeks as authorities work to bring the local outbreak under control. Rapid testing for health-care workers, teachers and students will be particularly useful in helping the city return to normal after the national lockdown ends, he said.

About 2,000 military personnel will help the National Health Service and independent contractors deliver the tests.

“This first deployment of whole city testing in Liverpool is a really important step forward and is thanks to the big increase in testing capacity and our investment in new testing technologies,” said Dido Harding, the head of the Test and Trace program.

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