Boris confirms shops CAN reopen Monday – but is roadmap in doubt?

You call this freedom? Boris offers a future full of endless Covid rules with vaccine passports almost certainly needed for mass events, travel abroad and even work – as SAGE predicts social distancing and masks will be needed for another YEAR

  • Boris Johnson has confirmed the scheduled Monday April 12 relaxation of restrictions on pubs and shops 
  • The PM insisted there was no reason to think from the data that the roadmap dates will need to be shifted
  • But he refused to commit to any relaxations of travel and played down rhetoric on returning to normal life 
  • The government has also unveiled a multi-billion-pound scheme for two free Covid tests per person per week
  • Move intended to help unlock and comes amid fears from ministers of a cases surge as economy is reopened
  • The fast-turnaround lateral flow tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis 

Boris Johnson laid out a grim vision of coronavirus restrictions stretching into the future tonight amid fears his roadmap is hanging in the balance. 

The PM tried to strike a bullish tone saying the country’s hard work is ‘paying off’ as he held an Easter Monday press briefing in Downing Street, confirming that shops can open on April 12 as planned.

Non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers can get up and running, while bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to serve customers customers.

‘On Monday 12, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,’ Mr Johnson said. 

As he struggled to quell rising anxiety about when normal life might resume, he said: ‘We set out our roadmap and we are sticking with it. We see nothing the present data that suggests we will have to deviate from that roadmap.’  

However, the government’s SAGE experts and a series of reviews published this afternoon cast serious doubt on the prospects of returning to normal by the June 21 previously proposed for a full lifting – and Mr Johnson himself seemed to scale back his rhetoric on ‘freedom day’.    

New evidence released by the government suggested that the relaxation could spark a fourth peak in outbreak. 

A paper indicated that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year – while voicing ‘reasonable confidence’ that Covid will be manageable by then.

It said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17 – could be called into question if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85 per cent. 

Meanwhile, separate updates on a series of reviews gave little more than holding positions – stopping short of confirming that non-essential foreign travel will be allowed from the earliest mooted date of May 17, with a traffic light system of restrictions due to come into force when the blanket ban lifts.

Mr Johnson said he would not provide a ‘hostage to fortune’ by giving any timeline.  

Easing of social distancing rules and tough work from home guidance could also be contingent on controversial plans for ‘Covid passports’ – with the government refusing to rule out the curbs staying in place well after the theoretical end point of the roadmap on June 21.

A further update suggested businesses will be permitted to use Covid passports, but they would not be in place before June 21, and the premier even dodged committing to hold a vote in Parliament on the issue. 

Pressed on when he thought life might get back to normal, Mr Johnson merely said ‘in many ways life will begin to get back to at least some semblance of normality’. 

Earlier, Matt Hancock faced a backlash after he claimed a multi-billion pound plan to test everyone for coronavirus twice a week is the only way ‘back to normality’. Even the PM will be subject to the screening, despite previously recovering from the disease and having had a vaccine dose.   

The Health Secretary announced a huge expansion of testing with free rapid kits made available to everyone in England from this Friday, saying: ‘Reclaiming our lost freedoms & getting back to normal hinges on us all getting tested regularly.’  

But concerns were immediately raised as when used on that scale the tests could wrongly label tens of thousands of people a week as having Covid – muddying the water over whether the disease is making a comeback.

Those individuals would also be forced to isolate and get more reliable PCR checks to show they are clear. 

Tories pointed out that vaccines have been billed as the key to returning to normal, saying it was another example of ministers ‘moving the goalposts’. 

Mr Johnson said this evening that submitting to tests in return for more normality did not seem ‘too onerous’. 


Boris Johnson (left) tried to strike a bullish tone saying the country’s hard work is ‘paying off’ as he held an Easter Monday press briefing alongside chief medic Chris Whitty (right) in Downing Street tonight, confirming that shops can open on April 12 as planned

Social distancing will remain in place until next year even if Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’.  

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21 as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No10’s experts claimed today that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then. 

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90 per cent, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.  

Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again. 

Cases and deaths are their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs. 

Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.

But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is ‘highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths’.

They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17 – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85 per cent.

Modelling by Warwick University, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine (LSHTM) warned of a late summer surge after ‘freedom day’ in June which could rival levels seen this January when hospitals were nearly overwhelmed.

 

Social distancing will remain in place until next year even if Mr Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown goes to plan, the Government’s top scientific advisers warned today.

Senior SAGE sources said that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’.  

All legal limits on social contact were to be abolished by June 21 as part of the final stage of the Prime Minister’s four-step route out of the crisis. It was hoped that festivals, sports events and nightclubs would reopen and that families and friends could reunite in large numbers after that date for the first time since winter 2020.

However, No10’s experts claimed today that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then. 

The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines reduce Covid deaths by about 90 per cent, but there are fears high infection rates could see the virus spill into the small number of vulnerable people who haven’t been jabbed or for whom the vaccines don’t work.  

Despite the pessimistic comments, Mr Johnson is set to announce the country is on track for the second stage of his lockdown easing plans on April 12, which will see shops, gyms, hairdressers and beer gardens reopen again. 

Cases and deaths are their lowest levels in six months and more than half of the adult population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the jabs. 

Papers released by SAGE today show the expert group is confident next week’s lockdown-easing measures will not pile pressure on the NHS, even if there is a slight uptick in infections, because of the success of the jab rollout.

But the advisory panel is less optimistic about future stages of the roadmap, adding that it is ‘highly likely that there will be a further resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths’.

They said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17 – could be delayed if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85 per cent.

Modelling by Warwick University, Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine (LSHTM) warned of a late summer surge after ‘freedom day’ in June which could rival levels seen this January when hospitals were nearly overwhelmed.

Covid passports are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives’ until the pandemic passes, a review of future safety measures admitted today, as MPs stepped up their efforts to stop them becoming law.

A Government analysis said that even if the Government did not set up and regulate a system of ‘Covid-status certification’, venues would be able to do it themselves under existing legislation.

And as Boris Johnson unveiled the latest steps on his roadmap out of lockdown this evening it revealed that they could still be required by drinkers to enter the pub or by families heading out for a meal.

But a decision on this has been kicked further down the road to allow more ‘consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts’.

Mr Johnson wants domestic Covid passports in place by June 21 – but faces the potential of an embarrassing Commons defeat after promising Tory rebels a vote on their introduction. Labour has also been lukewarm about them, suggesting it could also vote against them.

The roadmap review published today  to coincide with the Prime Minister’s press conference, says: ‘Even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes… 

‘In the UK, businesses and other organisations are able to ask customers for proof of Covid-status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation.

Covid passports ‘likely to become feature of life’ 

Covid passports are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives’ until the pandemic passes, a review of future safety measures admitted today, as MPs gear up to stop them becoming law.

A Government analysis said that even if the Government did not set up and regulate a system of ‘Covid-status certification’, venues would be able to do it themselves under existing legislation.

And as Boris Johnson unveiled the latest steps on his roadmap out of lockdown this evening it revealed that they could still be required by drinkers to enter the pub or by families heading out for a meal.

But a decision on this has been kicked further down the road to allow more ‘consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts’.

Mr Johnson wants domestic Covid passports in place by June 21 – but faces the potential of an embarrassing Commons defeat after promising Tory rebels a vote on their introduction. Labour has also been lukewarm about them, suggesting it could also vote against them.

The roadmap review published today  to coincide with the Prime Minister’s press conference, says: ‘Even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes… 

‘In the UK, businesses and other organisations are able to ask customers for proof of Covid-status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation.

‘The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe – although … there may be exceptions where the Government needs to intervene to ensure equitable access to essential services. 

‘The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe – although … there may be exceptions where the Government needs to intervene to ensure equitable access to essential services.

refused to commit to his roadmap date of May 17 for resuming non-essential international travel as the Government again told Britons to wait to book a summer holiday abroad.  

The Prime Minister’s lockdown exit strategy said foreign holidays would return ‘no earlier than’ the middle of May. 

But the initial findings of a Whitehall review on the subject said the ‘state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries’ means ministers are ‘not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point’.

The findings said the Government ‘will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction’.

‘For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer,’ the update said. 

The findings are likely to anger the travel industry amid growing calls for ministers to provide certainty on when non-essential flights can resume. 

Mr Johnson used a Downing Street press conference this afternoon to confirm a traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is permitted again, with Brits allowed to visit countries with high vaccination rates.  

The system will see destinations rated as red, amber and green using criteria including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, any emerging variants and the country’s access to reliable data and genomic sequencing.

The criteria could result in European countries like France and Italy being ruled out of bounds for British holidaymakers as parts of the EU suffer spikes in cases and the bloc’s vaccination drive continues to stall.          

The Government said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be on the green list, with those decisions ‘driven by the data and evidence nearer the time’.  

Travel chiefs fear the traffic light system could result in a holiday booking ‘fiasco’ as they warned some European nations now face a race against time to reduce infection rates and boost vaccine take-up so they can make it onto the green list before the summer season.     

Under the Government’s scheme, sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly. 

Slides presented at the press briefing tonight provided an update on the status of the outbreak in the UK 

Today the government will unveil a multi-billion-pound scheme inviting everyone in England to take two free Covid tests per week. The fast-turnaround tests, which produce results in just half an hour, do not require lab analysis and will be available for use at home


In a round of interviews this morning, health minister Edward Argar said the mass testing plan was a ‘key part’ of getting people back to work

Matt Hancock faced a backlash today after he claimed a multi-billion pound plan to test everyone for coronavirus twice a week is the only way ‘back to normality’

Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.  

PM refuses to commit to travel from May 17 

Boris Johnson today refused to commit to his roadmap date of May 17 for resuming non-essential international travel as the Government again told Britons to wait to book a summer holiday abroad.  

The Prime Minister’s lockdown exit strategy said foreign holidays would return ‘no earlier than’ the middle of May. 

But the initial findings of a Whitehall review on the subject said the ‘state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries’ means ministers are ‘not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point’.

The findings said the Government ‘will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction’.

‘For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer,’ the update said. 

The findings are likely to anger the travel industry amid growing calls for ministers to provide certainty on when non-essential flights can resume. 

Mr Johnson used a Downing Street press conference this afternoon to confirm a traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is permitted again, with Brits allowed to visit countries with high vaccination rates.  

The system will see destinations rated as red, amber and green using criteria including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, any emerging variants and the country’s access to reliable data and genomic sequencing.

The criteria could result in European countries like France and Italy being ruled out of bounds for British holidaymakers as parts of the EU suffer spikes in cases and the bloc’s vaccination drive continues to stall.          

The Government said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be on the green list, with those decisions ‘driven by the data and evidence nearer the time’.  

Travel chiefs fear the traffic light system could result in a holiday booking ‘fiasco’ as they warned some European nations now face a race against time to reduce infection rates and boost vaccine take-up so they can make it onto the green list before the summer season.     

Under the Government’s scheme, sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly. 

Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.  

The traffic light scheme announcement came as the PM confirmed the Government will press ahead with plans for domestic and international vaccine passports, despite a growing Tory revolt.

Many Conservative MPs support using the documents for international travel but they oppose using them for day-to-day life. 

The traffic light scheme announcement came as the PM confirmed the Government will press ahead with plans for domestic and international vaccine passports, despite a growing Tory revolt.

Many Conservative MPs support using the documents for international travel but they oppose using them for day-to-day life. 

Experts have warned that when mass testing is carried out the slightly lower accuracy of the rapid kits – especially when conducted at home – means that thousands of people will get the wrong results.

Tory MPs have voiced alarm that any rise in cases could lead to further lockdown easing being delayed.

Former minister Steve Baker said that the false positives generated by tens of millions of additional tests could be enough to knock the Government’s roadmap off course.

Mr Baker, deputy chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: ‘It is now obvious that in an environment of low prevalence, mass asymptomatic testing makes false positives a real issue.’ 

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the BBC that mass testing was a ‘scandalous waste of money’.

‘When the prevalence rate of coronavirus falls as low as it is at the moment then an increasing proportion of cases are likely to be false positives meaning that cases and contacts will self isolate unnecessarily.’

Prof Pollock said mass testing was ‘going to do more harm than good’, complained about a lack of evidence from the government. 

Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne told MailOnline there was a danger that false positives could cause issues with the lockdown easing.

‘This is a year overdue. This time last year the great release was going to be a testing programme… we were going to test ourselves each day before we went out.

‘That was the first great hope, that testing would be the release to normality. Now it’s back again but in the intervening period haven’t we surpassed that?

‘Isn’t vaccination supposed to have provided us with the release? What is the purpose of us testing ourselves each day if the vaccination programme is a success?

He also questioned how many people ‘are really going to test themselves twice a week’.

‘We’ve already discovered it’s quite difficult to get people to test themselves at all even if they have symptoms.’

Sir Desmond said the false positive rate was ‘small but clearly when you are talking about millions of tests clearly it becomes a significant factor’.  

Health minister Edward Argar told Sky News the testing was a ‘key part’ of getting people back to work.

‘In terms of the reliability of the tests, I think recent Test and Trace analysis around this suggests that out of 1,000 lateral flow tests, there was less than one false positive within those 1,000,’ he said.

‘So that is still a highly accurate test which can play a really important part in reopening our country and our businesses, because it is so simple to take.’ 

Mr Argar said the costs would be within the existing two-year £37billion NHS Test and Trace budget. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I suspect in the first instance, a lot of them will be used by people who are starting to go back into their workplace again, as the economy starts opening up again, as pubs start opening for outside drinks and shops start opening again and as people start going back to their offices and businesses.

‘So I suspect that will be a very large proportion of people who use these tests.’

Writing in the Mail, Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, said twice-weekly testing could ‘help us get back to normal’.

She added: ‘If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

‘That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly.’

The moves comes as thousands of Britons flocked to parks and beaches to enjoy sunny weather over the bank holiday weekend. 

Families met in small groups outdoors to celebrate Easter Sunday together, as temperatures reached 64.4F (18C) in the South of England, and northern parts saw highs of 59F (15C). 

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is also set to announce a traffic light system to put holidays back on the table for Britons this summer – but much of Europe looks like being out of bounds as cases surge. 

The system will see foreign destinations rated as red, amber and green depending on a range of categories. 

Government sources said they will categorise countries using criteria including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, any emerging variants and the country’s access to reliable data and genomic sequencing. 

Sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly. 

Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.

The Prime Minister will re-affirm May 17 will be the earliest that foreign holidays can resume and the new system comes into effect.

But he will say he is unable to advise yet whether any countries will be classed as green on this date.

The PM is also fighting on another front, as he faces a burgeoning Tory revolt on proposals to use ‘coronavirus passports’ to help reopen pubs and get crowds back at events.

Michael Gove has promised MPs a chance to vote on the plans when they are finalised. But Labour says it has ‘many reservations’ about the civil liberties and practical implications, and more than 40 Conservatives have signalled they are ready to oppose. 

Chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs Sir Graham Brady blasted vaccine passports as ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary’.  

In a cross-party letter on Friday, 72 MPs – 41 of which were Tories – branded the Covid passport idea ‘divisive and discriminatory’.

If more than 60 Conservative MPs vote against the measures – alongside all members of the opposition – the vaccine passport plan would fail to get through the Commons in an embarrassing defeat for the PM.

Labour leader Keir Starmer last week suggested needing a passport to go to the pub would be un-British.

And shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said this morning: ‘We will keep an open mind but at the moment we have many reservations.’  

At a press conference this evening, the Prime Minister will confirm the next stage of the release from lockdown is on schedule – with shops, gyms and hairdressers allowed to reopen from April 12 (stock photo)

Visitors flock to Durdle Door in Dorset on a day of warm spring sunshine and a cool breeze during Easter Sunday

Durdle Door beach in Dorset was busy with people enjoying the sunshine on Easter Sunday

Today’s announcement introduces a universal mass testing regime for England which is likely to become part of the ‘new normal’ and remain in place for many months.

NHS and care home staff, along with millions of school children are already using fast-turnaround tests twice a week.

The tests are said to have identified 120,000 cases that might not otherwise have been picked up.

Government sources said that more than 100,000 businesses have also requested test kits to run their own schemes designed to make workplaces Covid secure.

Under the new regime, which will be introduced on Friday, people will be able to request packs of test kits for home use.

Individuals will also have the opportunity to get tested at council-run sites or as part of workplace schemes.

And a new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ scheme will be introduced, allowing adults to pick up boxes of seven rapid tests.

The new drive will use so-called ‘lateral flow tests’ which provide on-the-spot results in the same way as a pregnancy test.

Users still have to take a swab from their nose and throat, but the results can be determined at home in half an hour, without the need for laboratory analysis.

Health sources last night said the tests produced fewer than one false positive in a thousand.

But this could still result in almost 1,000 false cases for every one million taken.

Ministers have now agreed that anyone testing positive will be offered a ‘gold standard’ PCR test to confirm the result.

New technology means these tests can also now be used to detect new variants of the virus, allowing their spread to be picked up more quickly.

The Government was unable to say how much the new scheme would cost.

But with tests thought to cost at least £5 each, take-up of 25million would generate a bill of more than £1billion a month. 

HOW LATERAL FLOW TESTS ARE ONLY TRUSTWORTHY WHEN ADMINISTERED BY TRAINED STAFF

Lateral flow tests are only accurate at diagnosing coronavirus when administered by trained professionals, studies have repeatedly shown. 

The tests, which give results in as little as 15 minutes, use swabs of the nose or throat. Samples are then mixed in a testing liquid and put into a plastic cassette which can detect the presence or absence of coronavirus and then produce an image of a line, the same way as a pregnancy test, to indicate whether it is positive or negative.

The Department of Health and NHS are instructing people to use the tests on themselves, despite manufacturers of some kits saying they shouldn’t be used as DIY swabs.

Both the swabbing procedure and the use of the test cassette can easily be done wrong and affect the accuracy of the test. 

If the swab isn’t done for long enough, or deep enough into the nose or throat, it may not pick up fragments of virus. Medical professionals are also able to use nasopharyngeal swabs, which go right to the back of the nostril, whereas this is not advised for people who test themselves.

And if the sample isn’t properly inserted into the cassette the result might be wrong, or people may misread the display when it produces a result. 

SELF-TESTING CUT ACCURACY FROM 79% TO 58%

A University of Oxford and Public Health England evaluation of the Innova lateral flow test, which is being widely used in the UK, found its sensitivity – the proportion of positive cases it detected – fell from 79 per cent to 58 per cent when it was used by untrained members of the public instead of lab experts. 

Based on this evaluation, officials pushed ahead and used it for a real-world self-testing trial.

PILOT IN LIVERPOOL FOUND FEWER THAN HALF OF POSITIVES

When the same Innova test was trialled on members of the public in Liverpool – with people taking their own swabs and trained military staff operating the tests – the swabs picked up just 41 per cent of positive cases.

In the study the rapid tests detected 891 positive results, compared to lab-based PCR swabs that found 2,829 positives in the same group. This means 1,938 people got a wrong negative result from the rapid test.

The study didn’t compare this to professionally done rapid tests, but the manufacturer Innova claims its test is 95 per cent sensitive in lab conditions. 

…BUT TESTING DONE BY MEDICS IN SLOVAKIA ‘REDUCED INFECTIONS’ 

Despite rapid lateral flow tests getting bad press, officials in Slovakia used them on 5.2million people – almost the entire population of 5.5m – in a trial that a study later estimated to have cut the country’s infection rate by 60 per cent.

The tests used were between 70 and 90 per cent accurate and all the swabs and evaluations were carried out by trained medical workers. They used deep nasopharyngeal swabs, that go to the back of the nose, whereas self-testing generally relies on a swab of only the nostril.

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researchers said that the scheme successfully weeded out coronavirus cases that wouldn’t have been found otherwise, slashing the number of cases by over half in a week during a lockdown. 

HOW RAPID TESTS ARE DIFFERENT TO LAB-BASED PCR SWABS 

Lateral flow tests are an alternative to the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing – which is more expensive and more labour-intensive but more accurate.

PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.

This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.

It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world. 

We all want a return to normality… regular tests can only help, writes DR JENNY HARRIES

The new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) launched last week with the unique mission to protect the nation’s health, both from existing hazards – such as hepatitis or radiation risks – but also from external and emerging threats.

As its first priority, it will continue the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regular, rapid testing means we are finding cases of the virus that we wouldn’t otherwise detect, which prevents transmission to families, friends and communities – and which could ultimately save lives.

Around one in three people experiences no symptoms when they contract the virus and by getting tested regularly people will rapidly break chains of transmission that could begin unwittingly.

Twice-weekly testing using lateral flow devices, commonly known as LFDs, has already protected millions of people who need to leave home for work, including frontline NHS workers, care home staff and residents, and schoolchildren and their families.

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England.

An LFD is the testing equivalent of a Formula 1 pit stop. With a rapid turnaround time of 30 minutes for a result, these swab tests can be done from the comfort of a living room and are capable of quickly giving a snap verdict on whether someone is or isn’t likely to be infectious.

Just like an experienced mechanic, people get quicker at doing the test, and get better results, the more frequently they carry them out.

Vaccines are tipping the scales in our favour but as cases, deaths and hospitalisation charts continue to fall, the importance of our testing and tracing capabilities grows.

An effective testing and tracing system is our radar for spotting new outbreaks and suppressing them and for watching out for new variants. The new variant in Kent, which rapidly increased cases across the country, is a stark reminder that viruses are shapeshifters and they mutate all the time.

Regular testing in the months ahead can help us all get back to normal, and from this Friday we will make twice-weekly LFD testing available to every person in England. Pictured: A student uses a swab at a testing site in the University of Hull’s Allam Sport Centre

Writing in the Mail, Jenny Harries, head of the new UK Health Security Agency, said twice-weekly testing could ‘help us get back to normal’

If we are going to reclaim our lost freedoms for the long term, we must ensure we can withstand expected but unpredictable attacks in the form of variants of the virus.

That will require us to use the massive testing capacity to discover where variants of concern are and respond to them swiftly. Our diagnostics system is ready for testing on a level that matches the vaccination rollout, both in scope and ambition. The UK is now a testing juggernaut.

At the most recent count we have been testing over a million people a day, genome sequencing 32,000 tests in a week, and we have traced and contacted 3.2million who have tested positive in the past year, and a further six million of their contacts.

Regular testing is a way we can all help to bring about the return of much that has been missing in all of our lives and I have every confidence people will continue to give their selfless support in this next stage, just as they have throughout this pandemic.

Dr Jenny Harries is chief executive of the UKHSA.

Flights to countries with high jab rates: Boris Johnson will unveil traffic light system for summer holidays with destinations vetted for Covid infections, vaccinations and the risk of mutant strains

Britons will be allowed to holiday in countries with high vaccination rates this summer, Boris Johnson will say today.

The Prime Minister will unveil a traffic light system that will see destinations rated as red, amber and green.

Government sources tonight said they will categorise countries using criteria including the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the rate of infection, any emerging variants and the country’s access to reliable data and genomic sequencing.

The Prime Minister will unveil a traffic light system that will see destinations rated as red, amber and green

Sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly. Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.

The Prime Minister will re-affirm May 17 will be the earliest that foreign holidays can resume and the new system comes into effect.

But he will say he is unable to advise yet whether any countries will be classed as green on this date.

A Government source said last night: ‘It is too early to predict which countries will be on which list over the summer. As such, we continue to advise people not to book summer holidays abroad.’ One scientist said yesterday the traffic light system could be too simplistic to stop the spread of new cases.

Professor Gabriel Scally, a member of the Independent Sage committee, said: ‘It is not quite as simple as looking at what the situation is in an individual country from which a flight originated. We know people will mix together from all over the world, and this is what spurred the autumn surges of cases.’

Britons will be allowed to holiday in countries with high vaccination rates this summer, Boris Johnson will say today (File image) 

A public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport (File image) 

Malta’s health minister yesterday said there was ‘no reason’ why holidaymakers should not be allowed to travel between countries that have vaccinated a high proportion of their population. Christopher Fearne told Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: ‘Malta by the summer will probably be one of the safest places to travel to certainly in Europe and probably in the world.

‘That is because we are vaccinating at a high rate.’

Malta has announced British travellers who have had both doses of the vaccine are welcome from June 1.

Travel chiefs urged Mr Johnson to add a fourth tier to the system which would eliminate the need for testing or quarantine to very low-risk countries.

Chief executive of easyJet John Lungren, Jet2 boss Stephen Heapy and Manchester Airports Group boss Charlie Cornish have handed ministers ‘independent and scientifically-robust’ research they each commissioned which suggests safe travel ‘to Europe and beyond will be possible this summer, in many cases without any restrictions’.

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