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Healthcare workers with early symptoms set to be tested for Covid-19

The Government is set to scale up testing, including early testing for healthcare workers and testing for asymptomatic individuals on whether they have already had the disease, the chief medical officer has announced.

In the first daily briefing by the Prime Minister, the CMO Professor Chris Whitty said that they are continuing to scale up testing on a weekly basis.

He added that Public Health England is ‘rapidly developing’ a test for whether people have already had the disease.

GPs have expressed concerns around testing for practice staff, with testing being predominantly carried out in hospitals.

Responding to a question on the World Health Organization’s declaration that some countries were not doing enough testing, Professor Whitty said: ‘We agree with the secretary general that testing is absolutely essential.

‘We do intend to scale up testing. But I think it is important to realise the scale of UK testing, which has been substantial. There have been 44,000 tests conducted and we will continue to scale up the testing every week.’

He added that the current tests are only for people who currently have the disease. He said: ‘The thing that will be transformational will be a test to reliably tell us if someone has previously had the disease so we can find out what proportion of people get this infection without symptoms. Currently such a test is not reliable, but it is being developed very rapidly by Public Health England.’

When asked about the testing of healthcare workers, Professor Whitty said: ‘Once we have the capacity to do this – which we are going towards very fast – healthcare and other critical workers [will be tested] early on in their illness. If they end up having the symptoms, but not coronavirus, then they will be able to go back to work, which is good for the NHS, good for society.

‘If they have got it, at least you know they have got it and won’t get it again. So a positive or negative test are therefore useful for the service so there is a very strong incentive to get this out as fast as we can practically manage it.’

In the same briefing, the Prime Minister announced a series of ‘drastic measures’, including extreme social distancing measures for elderly patients and those with underlying health issues.