Boris Johnson has said 100,000 critical workers will be given daily lateral Covid flow tests to help keep essential services open from next week.
The Prime Minister told Tuesday's (4 January) Downing Street press conference that firms working in areas such as food processing, transport and the Border Force will be sent kits every working day from 10 January.
How long will workers have to do daily tests?
Critical workers will be required to take a Covid test every working day for an initial five weeks, the government has said.
Those who work in essential services and are not able to work from home, and are at risk of infecting each other, will be eligible to receive a test.
It includes those who work in national infrastructure, national security, transport food distribution and processing, Border Force, police and fire services, electricity generation and test kit warehouse and surge labs.
The government said the new testing policy will help to isolate asymptomatic cases and limit the risk of outbreaks in workplaces, reducing transmission while Covid cases remain high.
Mr Johnson said: "The government is acing to protect critical national services to keep supply chains open and fortify our NHS to withstand the pressures ahead.
"We've identified 100,000 critical workers in areas from food processing, to transport to our Border Force and from January 10 we will be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers available on every working day.
“We will be sending testing kits directly to these organisations and liaising with them on the logistics.”
The announcement has come under fire by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which slammed the number of tests provided as "hopelessly inadequate".
General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Key workers do their vital work in teams. Surgeons and nurses need cleaners and porters.
“Food supply needs producers, warehouse staff, drivers, and retailers.
“Ministers must explain who is left out, and what they should do if they can’t get tested.
“The Prime Minister has known about the shortage of tests for weeks. It beggars belief that he is doing so little, so late.”
Are lateral flow tests accurate?
Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer said that lateral flow tests are a “very good guide actually to whether someone is at that moment infectious”.
His comments come amid reports that testing rules could be changed in England so that those who test positive on a lateral flow test will not need to wait to get a confirmatory PCR afterwards, thereby shortening the amount of time in self-isolation.
About the shortening of the self-isolation regime, Sir Chris said: “The reason that we feel it is a useful tool to allow on day six and day seven, someone is isolated because they know they’ve got Covid to day five and then they have a negative test on day six and a negative test on day seven, we have confidence they’re much less likely to be in any way infectious to other people if they then leave isolation than if they had not done those tests.
“So that’s the reason why adding those tests on allowed ministers to decide to move from 10 days isolating down to seven but the last two you do the lateral tests because they’re very predictive of how infectious someone is… obviously if they’re still positive, then they do need to stay in isolation until it goes negative.”
“The PCR tests which are the other way of testing, they can remain positive for a long time after someone has had an infection, including beyond the point where they are infectious.
“So the reason that we find the PCR is extremely good because they’re very sensitive and they’re extremely because they tell you which type of variants of Covid, it has got many advantages, but the lateral flows are really good at helping to determine whether someone is infectious at that point to other people.”