How will Liverpool's city-wide mass coronavirus testing pilot scheme work?

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read

Watch: Liverpool to roll out mass COVID testing

Liverpool will be the location for a mass coronavirus testing pilot scheme, the government has announced.

From Friday, everyone living or working in the city will be offered COVID-19 tests, whether or not they have symptoms.

In the week up to 30 October, there were 1,754 new coronavirus cases in Liverpool, while the average area in England had 153. They city is in the very high alert level, Tier 3.

There are hopes the pilot scheme could be a “game-changer” in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

If successful, the government says the trial could be rolled out to other towns and cities in England before Christmas.

How will the pilot scheme work?

Hundreds of thousands of new rapid turnaround tests will be available in Liverpool, and all residents and workers there will be offered repeat COVID-19 testing, even if they are asymptomatic.

The government hopes that half a million people will be tested in Liverpool.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks on the street amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Liverpool, Britain October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble
The city of Liverpool has been selected for a mass testing pilot scheme. (Reuters)

People can book a test in a number of ways, including online, walk-up or by invitation from the local authority.

Tests will be carried out at existing and new test sites, using home kits, in hospitals and care homes, schools, universities and workplaces.

Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate along with their household immediately and their contacts will be traced.

Positive test results will be gathered by NHS Test and Trace and published as part of daily case numbers. People will receive their test results from NHS Test and Trace via text and email.

The types of tests

People in Liverpool will be tested using a combination of existing swab tests and 500,000 new lateral flow tests which can turn around results within an hour without the need to be processed in a lab.

In addition, loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) technology will be deployed in Liverpool University Hospitals for NHS staff.

A worker spray cleans the Beatles statue in Liverpool.
Liverpool has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 in England. (PA)

Lateral flow tests apply a swab from the nose and throat to a special test kit and provide results without the need for a full scale laboratory.

LAMP testing offers the ability to deliver large volumes of results.

Support from the Armed Forces

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is providing 2,000 army personnel on the ground in Liverpool to support health workers from Thursday.

The army will assist local authorities with planning logistics and delivering the additional lateral flow testing part of the programme.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “We will be deploying 2,000 talented Armed Forces personnel to, once again, rise to the challenges posed by COVID-19 to ensure we go above and beyond for the Liverpool community – we will have your backs throughout the trial.

“The military are uniquely placed to help with the fight against COVID-19 and remain ready to support with the mass testing initiative in Liverpool along with the additional needs of the country at this time.”

Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, told the BBC on Tuesday: “Logistically, we are talking to the armed forces personnel and others about where to site about 30 units across the city, with some of them being mobile units.”

A game-changer?

The government said it hopes the pilot will help provide “a blueprint for how mass testing can be achieved and how fast and reliable COVID-19 testing can be delivered at scale”.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: "If this is a success – and I really hope that it will be and that people in Liverpool will get behind it – then we’ll be looking to roll this out in other towns and cities and make millions more of these rapid tests before Christmas.

"If we can make a success of this then I think this will be a really important weapon in our arsenal to tackle the virus."

Watch: Mass testing in Liverpool will be ‘simple and accessible’

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas and empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas.

“It is early days, but this kind of mass testing has the potential to be a powerful new weapon in our fight against COVID-19.”

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, welcomed the move in Liverpool.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hesitate to use the word game-changer because it gets over-used, but it is a significant step forward in the testing arena.”

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