Coronavirus: All over-fives in UK now eligible for test

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US Air Force Tech Sgt Jordan Rigor, 48th Medical Support Squadron conducting COVID-19 testing at Royal Air Force Feltwell, BritainImage copyright
EPA

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Testing will be rolled out to everyone over the age of five with symptoms of coronavirus

Everyone aged five and over in the UK with symptoms can now be tested for coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

He was speaking in Parliament after the loss of taste or smell was added to the list of Covid-19 symptoms, alongside a fever and a new persistent cough.

Mr Hancock said the government was “expanding eligibility for testing further than ever before”.

He added 100,678 tests had been conducted on Sunday.

Testing has been limited to people with symptoms who are key workers, hospital patients, care home residents, over-65s and those who need to leave home to work in England and Scotland.

In Wales and Northern Ireland it was just key workers, hospital workers and care home residents.

Mr Hancock said 21,000 people had been recruited to conduct contact-tracing in England, including 7,500 healthcare workers.

This is when people who have come into contact with someone with the virus are tracked down and potentially asked to self-isolate.

Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth pressed the government on the time taken for results to be received on whether someone had Covid-19 or not.

He told MPs: “Can [Mr Hancock] tell us what is the current median time for test results to be received by someone when carried out by Deloitte and other private-sector testing facilities?

“And how soon do directors of public health and GPs receive those results?”

The expansion of the testing programme may grab the headlines.

It is a significant milestone – in less than two months the UK has gone from only being able to test hospital patients and health and care staff to offering it more or less population-wide.

But it should not mask the difficulties that remain getting the test, track and trace system up-and-running.

This will be essential to contain local outbreaks as we ease ourselves out of lockdown.

Tests are still taking too long to turnaround for some – significant numbers are thought to be waiting several days – while the piloting of the tracking app on the Isle of Wight is not yet finished.

One particular concern is that the app does not yet let users know if the person they have had contact with ends up testing positive. Instead, it has only let them know if the contact has developed symptoms.

That is a major problem. It means people have been left in limbo and incorporating that feature into the app will be important.

Progress is being made, but getting a workable and efficient system in place soon is still a monumental challenge.

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