Tests that can detect coronavirus and flu within 90 minutes are to be rolled out from next week in hospitals, care homes and labs.
The “on-the-spot” swab and DNA tests will differentiate between COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
The two new tests do not need trained health staff to operate them and the government has indicated they could also be used in schools.
Most results from current tests that are carried out in-person are only returned the next day, while home kits take longer.
The announcement comes after the government’s announcement of new lockdown restrictions in the North of England was branded “shambolic”.
It was reported at the weekend that Boris Johnson had asked officials to draw up new social distancing measures to avoid a second nationwide lockdown.
About 450,000 LamPORE swab tests will be available from next week across adult care settings and laboratories.
Millions more of the tests, supplied by Oxford Nanopore, are set to be rolled out later in the year.
Meanwhile, thousands of DNA test machines, which have already been used in eight London hospitals and can analyse nose swabs, will be rolled out across NHS hospitals from September.
Some 5,000 machines, supplied by DnaNudge, will provide 5.8 million tests in the coming months, the government said.
“Millions of new rapid coronavirus tests will provide on-the-spot results in under 90 minutes, helping us to break chains of transmission quickly,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.
“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as COVID-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”
Professor Chris Toumazou, co-founder of DnaNudge and founder of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, said: “The DnaNudge team worked with incredible speed and skill during the peak of the pandemic to deliver this highly accurate, rapid COVID-19 test, which requires absolutely no laboratory or pipettes and can be deployed anywhere with a direct sample-to-result in around just over an hour.”
Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, said: “LamPORE has the potential to deliver a highly effective and, crucially, accessible global testing solution, not only for COVID-19 but for a range of other pathogens.”
On Monday, the government said the new 90-minute tests could be rolled out in schools.
Junior business minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They can be rolled out to other settings, including schools.
“One of the great innovations… is that this can be administered without someone having technical abilities or technical know-how.”
Asked if the tests are a part of the government’s plan for schools, which are slated for reopening on 1 September, he said: “This is a further enhancement of our capabilities, and as we roll this out we will obviously be looking at other settings, including schools, to roll it out into.”
The new tests were announced after the department denied that it had abandoned its pledge to regularly test care home residents through the summer following a leaked memo from Professor Jane Cummings, the government’s adult social care testing director.
According to the Sunday Times, Prof Cummings wrote to local authority leaders to inform them that “previously advised timelines for rolling out regular testing in care homes” were being altered because of “unexpected delays”.
Regular testing of residents and staff was meant to have started on 6 July but will now be pushed back until 7 September for older people and those with dementia, it has been reported.
A department spokeswoman confirmed there were issues with “asymptomatic re-testing”.
According to the government, more than 115,000 COVID-19 tests were carried out on Sunday, while almost 8.4 million tests have been carried out since the outbreak began.
There are currently two main tests used to detect coronavirus infection: nasal/throat swabs and finger-prick blood tests.
The swab test, which involves a deep swab of the nose or the back of the throat, is used to determine whether someone is currently infected with COVID-19.
The finger-prick test is used to identify the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in a person’s blood, which would signify prior infection.
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