Thank you for contacting me about Covid-19 testing.
I fully support steps the Government has taken to increase testing capacity, by setting and meeting ambitious targets. I was delighted to learn that the target of capacity for 500,000 tests each day was met and exceeded.
If you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and have any of the symptoms of coronavirus, you can ask for a test here:
Additionally, essential workers and their families in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland can apply for priority testing through the GOV.UK website:
Mass testing is central to our response to this virus, helping us to understand more about the spread of COVID-19, and requiring people to self-isolate even when they have no symptoms, to reduce infection rates.
Rapid turnaround mass testing, such as the whole-city testing in Liverpool, is already being rolled out, with over 600,000 tests sent to local public health directors. I am extremely proud that, in the UK, we have the largest testing capacity in Europe, and the announcement of two new megalabs, set to open in early 2021 and expanding our daily testing capacity by a further 600,000, is another key milestone. I believe that these are important steps in enabling people to return to normal life.
Lateral flow antigen tests are a new kind of technology that could be used to test a higher proportion of asymptomatic people, enabling better identification and isolation of more people who are at a high likelihood of spreading the virus, and break the chain of transmission. These tests do not require a laboratory to process the test, and can provide results within an hour. While at the moment the swabbing and processing of these tests must currently be conducted at a dedicated testing site by trained personnel, the devices are designed to be intuitive and require minimal training to operate, and my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are looking at how this test could be self-administered.
In the case of COVID-19, infection is most commonly detected by using a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR); a test that detects viral genetic material. PCR tests are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen, rather than the presence of the body’s immune response, or antibodies. That is only possible if the virus is there and someone is actively infected. By detecting viral RNA, which will be present in the body before antibodies form or symptoms of the disease are present, the tests can tell whether or not someone has the virus very early on.
By scaling PCR testing to screen vast amounts of samples from within a population, public health officials can get a clearer picture of the spread of a disease like Covid-19 within a population.
Combined with the mass vaccination programme the Government is now administering, testing will form a key role in restoring normality to our lives – something I know we are all looking forward to.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.