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Covid-19 testing capacity to be expanded ahead of winter

A campaign to encourage more people with symptoms of Covid-19 to get a test has been launched as NHS Test and Trace publishes plans to increase capacity to 500,000 tests a day in the lead up to winter.

Under plans announced by NHS Test and Trace chief executive Dido Harding, the number of tests given to people without symptoms will increase to 150,000 per day by September, with testing capacity to double to 500,000.

By October there will be more than 500 testing sites to help more people get a test nearer to their home, she said.

According to weekly Test and Trace figures, 218,000 people have now been contacted because they have had a positive test result or have recently come into contact with someone who has.

A public health campaign in England will highlight the importance of getting a free test as soon as people develop symptoms and responding if contact tracers get in touch.

Baroness Harding said: ‘The NHS Test and Trace service is a vital part of enabling us to get back to safely doing the normal things we love and will become ever more important as we approach winter.

‘I urge everybody to get a free test as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms and to follow the advice you’re given if you are contacted by the service. If we all continue to play our part, then together we can stop the spread of this virus.’

Data shows the programme is still struggling to reach a quarter of close contacts of those who have had a positive test.

The latest data for the week of the 16 to 22 July shows that around 80% of people who tested positive for coronavirus by the NHS scheme were reached by contact tracers and 75% of close contacts were reached and advised to self-isolate.

Among those tested under pillar 1 which covers hospitals and local outbreaks 91.0% of people had a result within 24 hours, the latest figures for the second week in July show.

This compares with 50% of people getting a result in 24 hours under the pillar 2 swab testing service.

NHS Digital has already announced that GP systems will now be updated in ‘near-real time’ to reveal the result of Covid-19 tests taken by all of their patients.