Covid-19: More testing sites for key workers to avoid isolation in England

Police officer wearing a mask

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More workers will be able to avoid self-isolation if they are a contact of a Covid case as the government expands workplace testing in England.

Police, firefighters, Border Force staff, transport and freight workers were already eligible for exemption from self-isolation in some cases.

But their employers needed to specify the workers’ names, and they had to be double-jabbed.

Now they will be able to join the daily contact workplace testing scheme.

The scheme was announced by the government on Thursday, originally for supermarket depots and food manufacturers.

Fifteen testing sites were initially announced – although they won’t be running until at least Monday.

The government has now announced “an expected initial 200 new testing sites”, and the wider range of eligible sectors.

It means workers who are alerted by the NHS Covid app – or contacted by Test and Trace – will be able to continue working if they test negative each day, whether or not they are vaccinated.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Daily testing will keep our frontline teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country.”

The exemptions from self-isolation came after concerns from several sectors that staff shortages were making normal work impossible, with a growing number of people told to self-isolate for 10 days.

Nearly 608,000 contact tracing alerts were sent in England in the week between 8 and 15 July – a record high.

However, it is not clear when the 200 additional new testing sites will be available.

The government’s promise to start testing at 15 “crucial” supermarket depots on Friday was delayed until Monday.

From 16 August, fully-vaccinated people in England will not need to isolate after being in close contact with a Covid case.

The BBC Lewis Goodall said “confusion – if not some chaos – has reigned in Whitehall over the past 24 hours days as ministers and officials grapple with the large number of workers being told to self isolate”.

The high number of notifications sent – branded a “pingdemic” – has led to criticism around the rules of self-isolation, with many businesses forced to close or reduce their service.

Announcing the new testing sites, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Daily contact testing of workers in these critical sectors will help to minimise any disruption caused by rising cases in the coming weeks, while ensuring staff are not put at risk.”

Chart showing app alerts rising rapidly

Meanwhile, Friday’s daily figures showed Covid cases were down for the third consecutive day in the UK, with 36,389 new infections.

It is too soon to say if cases have peaked, however, given that the statistics do not capture the impact of unlocking that happened on 19 July.

The latest estimate of R – which measures how quickly the virus is spreading – is unchanged from the previous week at 1.2 to 1.4.

It means that on average, every 10 people infected with coronavirus goes on to infect between 12 and 14 others.

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