NEW YORK ─ The UK Department of Health and Social Care said on Monday that everyone in England will be able to access free rapid COVID-19 testing beginning April 9.
The government agency is encouraging people to get tested twice a week with rapid lateral flow tests, in line with clinical guidance to help prevent outbreaks and pave the way for the reopening of businesses and society.
By making rapid tests available to everyone, more cases will be detected, breaking chains of transmission and saving lives, DHSC said. Alongside the rollout of vaccines for COVID-19, regular testing is going to be an essential part of the easing of restrictions as it will help to quickly suppress the spread of variants, the agency added.
"As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine program and with our roadmap to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
So far, rapid testing has been available to people most at risk and those who need to leave home for work, including frontline National Health Service (NHS) workers, care-home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families, DHSC noted.
Since rapid lateral flow tests for SARS-CoV-2 were introduced in the UK, more than 120,000 positive cases have been identified that would not have been found otherwise, DHSC said.
More than 100,000 businesses in England have registered an interest in providing rapid testing to their employees, DHSC said, adding that the offer of free testing is being expanded to companies with more than 10 workers where on-site testing is impossible. Expanded testing will be delivered through a service that allows people to order lateral flow tests online to be delivered to their home; workplace testing programs that are on-site or involve at-home testing; community testing offered by all local authorities; collection at local PCR test sites at specific test collection times; and testing on-site at schools and colleges.