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Saturday, March 2, 2024

North East working on mass Covid-19 testing programme

By Daniel Holland LDRS

The North East will not replicate Liverpool’s city-wide Covid testing programme, as health bosses draw up plans to drive down infection rates.

The Government has praised the huge Merseyside project, which has seen more than 300,000 people tested for the virus, and pledged to roll out more widespread asymptomatic testing to areas going into Tier 3 measures this week.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said during a press conference on Monday that the Liverpool pilot scheme had brought case rates down by over three quarters and that community testing would offer other areas a “faster way out of the toughest restrictions”.

But North East officials say there will not be a drive to offer the rapid ‘lateral flow’ tests to everyone in our region – with a more targeted approach set to be implemented.

Instead of mass testing that is open to anyone, the region is working on plans for more specific testing efforts – potentially targeting particular workplaces or religious communities, for example, to identify and stop Covid outbreaks.

Prof Eugene Milne, Newcastle’s director of public health, said: “It is really about a specificity, rather than the all-comers approach adopted with Liverpool. I don’t think that was terribly effective.

“Most of the fall in cases in Liverpool happened before mass testing, which didn’t make too much difference to the trajectory of the fall. However, there is value in it if we use it in the right place.”

The Government has praised Liverpool’s mass testing efforts for bringing down infection rates and allowing that region to go into Tier 2 from Wednesday, meaning that hospitality businesses can reopen and limited-capacity crowds are allowed back into football grounds.

But Prof Milne has cast doubt over how much impact the mass testing had, saying the rapid tests would be better deployed in a more targeted way.

He added: “Testing in a rapid, frequent manner can be very effective, particularly if it is targeted at the most vulnerable, or where there is most likely spread of virus, or where we are doing case finding in particular.

“In those cases it is really valuable. In Liverpool they had mass availability of testing, they did not necessarily have mass uptake.

“They did not get anywhere near the kind of levels they were hoping for.

“What we want to do is learn the lessons from Liverpool and use the availability of frequent, rapid turnaround testing to have a really targeted impact on more vulnerable communities in the region.”

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference last Thursday, Mr Johnson praised the Merseyside testing regime as a “success story which we want other parts of the country to replicate”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also suggested that getting a negative test could mean people are made exempt from some lockdown restrictions.

The Prime Minister said: “At least one in three people with Covid have no symptoms at all and may be spreading the disease without even knowing they’ve got it.

“The only way to identify them and protect everyone is through mass testing. Liverpool shows what can be achieved.

“In Liverpool, in the space of two and a half weeks, over 240,000 tests have been conducted and together with the effect of national restrictions, this has helped to reduce the number of cases in Liverpool City Region by more than two thirds.

“So having previously been in Tier 3, Liverpool City Region and Warrington will now be in Tier 2. This is a success story which we want other parts of the country to replicate so we will work with local government, public health leaders and our fantastic Armed Forces, to offer community testing to Tier 3 areas as quickly as possible, opening the way for them to follow Liverpool’s example.

“Testing on this scale is untried, but in due course, if it works, where people test negative, it may also be possible for families and communities to be released from certain restrictions even if their home area stays in Tier 3.”

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