Free rapid Covid tests will now be available to all businesses in England in a bid to curb the spread as the country reopens.
It means people in England will have access to free Covid testing at work if their employers sign up to the new Government scheme.
The super-fast Covid tests can detect cases in under 30 minutes, meaning people who test positive can isolate immediately, breaking chains of transmission.
From today, businesses of all sizes including those with less than 50 employees can register to order free tests as part of the Government’s roadmap to ease lockdown.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said regular workplace testing is “a vital part of our route back to normal life” andurged bosses to register their interest before March 31.
It could be the difference between a workplace being able to stay open, or needing to close due to a Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Hancock said: “Regular workplace testing is a vital part of our route back to normal life, which is why I’m very pleased that we’re now expanding our offer of free workplace testing to businesses of all sizes, including SMEs.
“These rapid tests will allow positive cases of Covid-19 to be caught quickly, which is crucial in helping businesses protect their workplaces and employees as we cautiously lift restrictions.
“I urge all businesses to register their interest in the programme before 31 March to help break chains of transmission and keep people safe.”
So far more than 3,500 businesses are signed up to offer workplace testing programmes, and more than 14,000 have registered their interest, with many already rolling out tests.
The new programme will form a crucial part of the Government’s plan to ease restrictions as we get back to a more normal life.
Around one in three people with coronavirus do not have symptoms, which means they could be spreading the virus in workplaces without knowing.
Businesses have until the end of March to register for the scheme, which will remain free until the end of June.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 Strategic Response Director to PHE and Chief Medical Adviser to NHS Test and Trace said: “Rapid testing can help detect asymptomatic cases quickly, preventing the virus from entering workplaces and stopping outbreaks before they occur.
“Combined with other protective measures, rapid testing is a vital tool to help us lower infection rates and ensure that they stay low. If you’re offered a test, please do take it.”
The expansion of asymptomatic testing is already well underway in larger companies for those who need to leave home for work.
Both private and public sector employers have signed up to provide rapid testing at asymptomatic testing sites, along with a self-test option for those that cannot access a workplace testing site.
This includes the UK’s largest employer – the NHS, those working in adult social care, education staff and a wide range of other sectors.
An online portal has been launched for businesses to find out more about offering rapid workplace testing.
Confederation of British Industry Chief UK Policy Director Matthew Fell, said: “Enabling more companies to engage with workplace testing is good news. It will help protect workers and help stifle Covid transmission.
“Businesses appreciate that regular mass testing can play a vital role in a safe re-opening, helping to build staff confidence and adding a layer of resilience to help firms stay open.”
Companies will be provided with all the information they need to plan and deliver their testing programme, along with promotional materials.
All local authorities in England are now offering rapid lateral flow testing for small businesses if they can’t offer rapid workplace testing.
Federation of Small Businesses National Chair Mike Cherry said: “A workplace testing infrastructure that works for businesses of all sizes as well as consumers is fundamental to bringing the coronavirus under control and ensuring that this current lockdown is the last.
“It’s great to see that the smallest businesses can now apply to set-up testing facilities on their premises.
“It’s vital that they are given all the support they need to do so successfully as they focus on staying afloat in extremely changing circumstances. We’d encourage all small firms that would benefit from a testing facility to apply as swiftly as they can.”