South London boroughs set to benefit from mass coronavirus testing

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

A number of South London boroughs are set to receive mass coronavirus testing roll-outs within the next week.

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Tuesday that 66 areas would each receive 10,000 lateral flow tests – which can deliver coronavirus test results within 15 minutes – at the end of this week.

The authorities are scattered around England and includes a large swathe of London boroughs.

Lambeth, Lewisham, Bexley, Greenwich and Bromley have been chosen for testing.

The new tests – which are already being rolled out as part of whole-city testing in Liverpool which began on Friday – can provide results within an hour without needing to be processed in a lab.

They also need minimal training to be used, with the government stating it is exploring how they could eventually be self-administered.

According to the government, local leaders will also benefit from a more accurate picture of the number of cases in their area.

Matt Hancock said the move would help “get life more normal”.

He added: “Last week we rolled out mass testing in Liverpool using new, rapid technology so we can detect this virus quicker than ever before, even in people who don’t have symptoms.

“Mass testing is a vital tool to help us control this virus and get life more normal.

“I am delighted to say 10,000 of these tests will now be sent out by NHS Test and Trace to over 50 directors of public health as part of our asymptomatic testing strategy.

“I want to thank all directors of public health for their support and efforts over the past months to help us tackle this virus, bring it under control and get the country back to what we love doing.”

However the leader of Greenwich council said the authority was in “no position to implement” the programme without further support from the government.

Danny Thorpe said the authority currently didn’t have the staff resources to implement the scheme and took aim at the government’s communication with local authorities, saying the announcement that Greenwich would be involved in the scheme was “certainly news” to those at town hall.

“Whilst I totally get (health secretary) Matt Hancock is in need of some good news headlines, and we are determined to help roll-out mass testing, not all is as set out,” Cllr Thorpe tweeted on Wednesday, the day after Greenwich was named as one of the 67 authorities to be included in the England-wide programme to roll-out the lateral flow tests, which can give results in as little as 15 minutes.

“The notion that 600,000 lateral flow tests are being issued to us is certainly news,” Cllr Thorpe said.

“In discussions about the pilot, we are absolutely clear that we need the resources to manage this. In Liverpool, the Army are doing a great job and we would happily welcome them to Greenwich. But giving out 10,000 tests with no people isn’t going to work.”

“We are yet to have any confirmation from the Department of Health and Social Care about the resources that will support this. And whilst I’m absolutely determined to do our bit, we simply cannot do this alone. I sincerely hope communication improves and we see real details that answer our questions, not just PR.

“But to be clear, we do not have these tests available now here in Greenwich and will not be in any position to implement a system unless our questions are answered.”

The test kits will be given to public health directors at councils across England this week, with subsequent top-up deliveries to be given to authorities weekly.

Further details of how to obtain a test have yet to be announced.


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