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UK rolls out lateral flow tests

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-11 05:55
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People walk and cycle at an intersection amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain Dec 23, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Move deemed 'a significant step forward' in curbing virus as infection rates worsen

The United Kingdom's health secretary said on Sunday, after the nation's most deadly day during the novel coronavirus pandemic, that more comprehensive testing alongside a vaccination program that will reach every adult by the fall will help to keep a lid on the situation.

Matt Hancock made the comments during The Andrew Marr Show, saying the rollout of vaccines will continue to be handled "according to need", with the most vulnerable people at the front of the line.

He added on Sky News's Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the most vulnerable 13 million people in the UK will have been offered a vaccination by the middle of February.

"We're on course," he said. "The rate-limiting factor at the moment is supply, but that's increasing. I'm very glad to say that, at the moment, we're running at over 200,000 people being vaccinated every day."

The news that the vaccination program is being rolled out quickly comes in the wake of a huge spike in novel coronavirus infections and a massive jump in the number of people being treated in hospital for the COVID-19 disease the virus causes. A record-breaking 1,325 people were reported to have died from COVID-19 on Saturday during the preceding 24-hour period.

The virus has been flaring alarmingly because of a new variant that was identified in the UK in December.

The variant, which is highly infectious, prompted Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to declare a "major incident" in the capital on Friday. He said the virus there is now "out of control".

Public Health England has estimated that one person in 100 now has the virus in London but the Office for National Statistics said it believes the number is more like one person in 30. Khan said he fears some parts of London are now running at a rate of one person in 20 with the virus.

He said the threat it now "poses to our city is at crisis point".

While people wait for their chance to be vaccinated, the authorities are trying to keep a lid on the spread by rolling out mass asymptomatic novel coronavirus testing this week.

The Evening Standard newspaper said people without COVID-19 symptoms who are unable to work from home will be prioritized for the fast-result tests that will enable so-called super-spreaders to be identified and asked to self-isolate.

The Financial Times said the rollout of the tests, which are known as lateral flow tests, will enable all 317 English local authorities to offer rapid testing to their residents, with results known within half an hour.

The paper quoted Hancock as saying: "With roughly a third of people who have coronavirus not showing 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 – so, I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the tests offer another way for the nation to fight back against the virus.

"There are deeply challenging weeks ahead, but today signals another significant step forward in the race to protect the public, and defeat the virus," he said.

The UK's official COVID-19 death toll passed 80,000 on Saturday, with the number of people known to have had the disease through laboratory-confirmed tests now standing at more than 3 million. The number of people being treated in hospital for COVID-19 symptoms is also now at a record high.

Some experts have said the nation's lockdown may need to be tightened as a result, if there is to be any hope of regaining control.

The raging spread of the more infectious variant has led to unprecedented numbers of healthcare workers falling ill, The Guardian newspaper reports.

It said staff shortages are now putting additional strains on hospitals, which were already at breaking point because of the number of patients they have been treating.

In a letter to members of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul, the organization's chairman, said: "There are over 46,000 hospital staff off sick with COVID-19, heaping additional pressure on an already overstretched workforce struggling to manage even current critical care demand."

Nagpaul said it is vital, therefore, that healthcare workers are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

The Observer newspaper added that people are now more scared of the virus than they have been at any point since June. An Opinium poll carried out for the paper shows 79 percent of people now report being worried about the virus, with 36 percent of those saying they are actually very worried.

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