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COVID-19: More testing sites and self-isolation exemption list in England expanded in bid to ease 'pingdemic'

·4 min read

Watch: Government expands contact testing sites

The list of sectors able to avoid quarantine as part of a pilot scheme is being extended - and the number of testing sites across England is being increased.

To support the expansion of the daily testing pilot scheme, some 1,200 new sites are being added to 800 already in operation.

The expanded scheme will now include people working in prisons, defence, communications, space, fish and HMRC, the government has said.

New testing sites are being erected "to avoid disruption to crucial services".

The changes come following a meeting of senior cabinet ministers headed by Michael Gove,

Last week, the government announced that individuals in frontline roles such as police, fire and the Border Force would move to daily lateral flow testing instead of having to isolate - regardless of vaccine status.

Emergency service workers and other critical staff, including those in transport, freight and haulage, were already eligible to be exempt but only if their employers specified their names and that they were double jabbed.

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An initial 800 sites for these sectors along with the food industry were confirmed last week.

And ministers had previously said new testing sites would be established, enabling daily contact testing to be "rolled out to further critical workplaces in England".

It comes as over 600,000 people were 'pinged' by the NHS COVID app in the week up to 14 July.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng admitted the government was "very concerned" about the number of people being alerted and told to self-isolate.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said daily testing would "play a vital role" in "minimising the potential for disruption caused by rising cases".

"Whether it's prison guards reporting for duty, waste collectors keeping our streets clean or workers in our energy sector keeping the lights on, critical workers have been there for us at every stage of this global pandemic," he said.

Watch: Food industry's 'Chicken King' warns of looming Xmas turkey crisis as 'pingdemic' and Brexit hit staffing levels

"As we learn to live with the virus, we will keep doing everything in our power to break chains of transmission and stop this virus in its tracks. Daily contact testing will play a vital role in this, helping minimise the potential for disruption caused by rising cases, while keeping staff protected."

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick added: "Critical workers up and down the country have repeatedly stepped up to the challenge of making sure our key services are delivered and communities are supported.

"We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will continue to support them to do their jobs safely and securely. This expansion of the daily contact testing centres is vital and hugely welcome."

And Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added that the expansion of the daily contact testing scheme is "hugely welcome".

"Our Armed Forces have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, ensuring operations and training at home and abroad continue while at the same time providing round the clock support to the nation's response to COVID," Mr Wallace said.

"Expanding the daily contact testing scheme is hugely welcome, allowing our personnel to continue that vital work across the UK and abroad."

The government hopes the move to daily contact testing using rapid lateral flow tests will reduce workplace disruption for workers who have received alerts from the NHS Coronavirus App or have been called by NHS Test and Trace.

Those eligible will be allowed to continue going to work so long as they test negative each day - but will have to remain in isolation at all other times.

Organisations are being contacted by NHS Test and Trace so they can mobilise sites this week to ensure critical workers can continue their vital roles safely, the government confirmed.

Last week, the government released a list of 24 sectors where fully vaccinated workers may be exempt from isolation if they are told to quarantine after coming into close contact with a positive COVID case.

The sectors included energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence outputs, and local government.

Other roles added later included manufacturing maintenance engineers, specialist reach truck drivers, official vets, environmental health officers, landfill operators, water engineers, laboratory staff essential to the batch release of medicines, and environment agency staff operating critical flood defence assets.

The government has previously said the exemptions would only be open to a "limited number of named workers" in critical services and are only intended to run until 16 August.

This is when a wider relaxation for fully vaccinated contacts is set to take effect.

Watch: Have we passed the peak of the third wave?

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