Boris Johnson to resurrect mass testing plans after ‘moonshot’ fails to materialise

Boris Johnson is expected to re-announce plans for mass coronavirus testing when he sets out a blueprint for lifting lockdown next week.

The NHS test and trace scheme is reportedly preparing for a nation-wide « surge » that would see 400,000 lateral flow tests sent out by post every day.

If successful, the new approach it would represent a significant rise in testing – aimed at controlling the spread of the virus once lockdown is lifted.

It comes months after the government widely briefed plans for a testing « moonshot » that that would have seen it carrying out many millions of checks a day by February 2021.

But the original plan appears to have fallen well short, with nowhere near the four or ten million tests a day variously briefed by government sources at the time.

Under the new proposals reported by The Times newspaper, a campaign titled « Are you ready? Get testing. Go” will be rolled out to encourage people to get tested even when they are not showing symptoms.

The Guardian meanwhile reports that mass events like football matches and music festivals are being considered as vehicles for rolling out mass testing.

Discussions are said to have taken place with music industry executives ahead of Mr Johnson’s planned announcement on reopening next Monday.

The prime minister was on Wednesday warned by an NHS leader that cases will have to plummet further before he can consider easing lockdown, however.

Around 695,400 people in England had coronavirus in the week ending February 6, according to the most recent figures.

But NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there was a « pretty clear view » that « that number needs to come down to around 50,000 ».

He has urged Boris Johnson to focus on « data, not just dates » in his address to the country on Monday.

Mr Hopson said there also needed to be further advances in the vaccination programme and an effective strategy to control future outbreaks before controls were lifted.

« If you look at where we are against those four tests, each one of them tells you that we’re still some way away from being able to start relaxing restrictions, » Mr Hopson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

« We had 500 Covid patients in hospitals in September and yet, 15 weeks later, we had 34,000 patients, and we were perilously close to overwhelmed.

« So, what that says to you is that you just need to be really careful before you start relaxing the restrictions prematurely. »

Previous attempts at test, trace, and isolate systems have struggled in the UK, with critics warning that financial support for people to stay at home and stop spreading the virus is too low.

Asked about the government’s plans for testing on Wednesday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab told Times Radio: « We have got ambitious targets in relation to testing which we have met at various points, as well as the vaccine rollout.

« And we are absolutely doing everything we can to meet those targets. They are obviously designed to be challenging, because we want to get people out of the current lockdown as soon as possible.

« The only way to do that is responsibly, safely – that’s the way we make it sustainable. »

A spokesperson for the department of health and social care said: “We set out in the Winter Plan how we would use new rapid testing technologies at scale across a range of different sectors.

“As previously announced, we are now deploying lateral flow tests across the country to test NHS and care home staff, as well as in targeted settings including schools, universities and for key workers. Testing and tracing is helping us bear down on the rate of infection. It remains absolutely paramount that everyone follows the rules to stop the virus.

“We have not finalised our further plans for testing. »