UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced £500 million ($665 million) for rapid Covid-19 testing and boost capacity, amid complaints of “operational challenges” from members of the public.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Thursday, Hancock said there was still a “significant demand for testing” among the British population, adding that the government “put a huge amount of testing into areas of outbreak where the numbers of cases are much higher.”
He said that when someone is unable to get a test at their closest center, they are then offered a test at a place where one is available, even if it is across the country.
There have been reports in UK media that those seeking tests have been directed to test centers more than 100 miles away.
Hancock said the “vast majority of people get a test really easily, it's turned around, you get the result the next day.”
The new investment in testing will help to “solve the problem by having the next generation of test at a radically bigger scale,” Hancock said, adding that he wants to get to the point where “the lab is in the back of a van” and can easily travel to hotspots.
The first stage will commence imminently with the launch of a "new, community-wide trial in Salford" to "assess the benefits of repeat population testing," the UK's Department of Health Thursday said in a press release. The Salford initiative will aim to process up to 250 tests a day, the department said, adding that "promising trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded using the new funding."
When asked how soon the rapid testing would be widely available to the public, Hancock declined to go into specifics saying the reliance "on brand new technology" prevented him from providing a specific date.
Hancock said the Department of Health was working with a company to "manufacture these kits as fast as possible" with the new funding. Hancock added that of the 100 companies the government is currently working with, three have had their tests verified.
He also said the UK government would not be implementing testing on arrival at British airports. As the "virus incubates in you," Hancock said, "scientists reckon that we find only about 7% of the total cases" from testing on the day of return. He pointed to the "countries around the world that have introduced this testing on arrival" who "are now moving away from it and doing the testing much later.”