NEW YORK – The UK government said on Sunday it would begin countrywide testing next week for patients who may have SARS-CoV-2 but may not display any symptoms.
In a statement, the government said that rapid, regular testing of asymptomatic patients will be expanded to cover all 317 local authorities in the country with a focus on testing people who are unable to work from home during the national lockdown. So far, 131 local authorities have signed up for community testing and 107 have started testing in their communities.
In addition to local authorities, NHS Test and Trace will work with other government departments to scale up testing of the workforce
About 1 in 3 people with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, the government said. In a statement UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that with such a high rate of patients with COVID-19 not displaying any symptoms "targeted asymptomatic testing and subsequent isolation is highly effective in breaking chains of transmission. … Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly – and every positive case found is helping to stop the spread."
Hancock also said that it has ordered 2 million lateral flow antigen tests from SureScreen Diagnostics for use in asymptomatic testing. Results from the test from Derby, UK-based SureScreen can be achieved in less than 30 minutes. The firm will provide 2 million of its tests by Jan. 15 and may provide millions more in the coming months.
The UK is currently in national lockdown as the number of COVID-19 cases have reached more than 3 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. A new variant of the coronavirus has also been traced to the UK, which has been blamed for a spike in the number of cases there. While there is so far no evidence the variant is more dangerous than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, it is suspected to be more contagious.