Boris Johnson sets out ‘moonshot’ testing plans to get life back to normal

Theatres and sports venues could soon test all audience members and let in those with a negative result under Boris Johnson’s plans to get life in the UK back to normal. 

Mr Johnson today announced a pilot programme will be launched in Salford next month which will see audiences at both indoor and outdoor venues tested on the day to see if they are infectious. 

Those who test positive for coronavirus will be sent home while those who test negative will be allowed in. 

The Prime Minister said if the pilot is successful the measures could be rolled out nationwide as part of its ‘moonshot’ mass testing plans which the Government hopes will pave the way for an end to social distancing.  

Mr Johnson earlier said he wanted everybody in the UK to eventually have access to daily coronavirus testing, with pregnancy-style checks providing results in as little as 15 minutes. 

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street coronavirus press conference this evening that negative tests would effectively provide people with a ‘passport’ which would allow them a ‘freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible’.  

Boris Johnson today set out plans for theatres and sports venues to use on-the-day coronavirus tests for audiences

Mr Johnson told the press conference that up until now testing has been used primarily to idenitfy people who have the disease so they can be isolated from the rest of society. 

The PM said that will continue to be the priority with a goal of increasing testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October. 

But he said that ‘in the near future we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative… so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way’.

He said new types of coronavirus tests which are ‘simple, quick and scalable will become available’ allowing for results in 90 or even 20 minutes and for tests to be administered in their millions everyday. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘That level of testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing. 

‘Theatres and sports venues could test all audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious.

‘Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning and allow them to behave in a way that was normal before COVID.’

He added: ‘Now that is an ambitious agenda, but we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues. And then we hope to go nationwide.

‘There are a number of challenges. We need the technology to work. We need to source the necessary materials to manufacture so many tests. We need to put in place an efficient distribution network. And we need to work through the numerous logistical challenges.

‘And as I say, we are not there yet, and I should repeat that, as we manage this period of high demand, it is especially important that if individuals don’t have symptoms, and have not been specifically advised to take a test, they should not be coming forward for a test – because they could be taking a test away from someone who really needs it.’

Mr Johnson said the testing ‘moonshot’ will require a ‘giant, collaborative effort from government, business, public health professionals, scientists, logistics experts and many, many more’.

‘Work is underway – and we will get on at pace until we get there, round the clock,’ he said. 

Mr Johnson said he hoped the approach will be ‘widespread by the spring’ but ‘if everything comes together, it may be possible even for challenging sectors like theatres to have life much closer to normal before Christmas’.    

He added: ‘That gives you a kind of passport… a freedom to mingle with everybody else who is similarly not infectious in a way that is currently impossible.’  

But chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance urged caution on the plans as he said there was a lot of uncertainty around the development of accurate saliva tests. 

Asked whether the proposed mass daily saliva testing ‘moonshot’ could actually work, Sir Patrick said: ‘Some of them we don’t yet know that they work. So things like lateral flow tests are not yet being used widely, they’ve not been validated.

‘There are prototypes which look as though they have some effect, but they’ve got to be tested properly and so there are, as always with technologies, unknowns and we would be completely wrong to assume this is a slam dunk that can definitely happen.

‘I think this needs to be tested carefully.’  

Mr Johnson had said at Prime Minister’s Questions that he wants everybody in the UK to be able to take a daily coronavirus test in order to get life back to normal. 

The Prime Minister said his ‘vision’ for the future is for the whole nation to have access to a pregnancy-style test which would reveal within 15 minutes if someone has the virus. 

The PM said the so-called ‘enabling tests’ could be used at the start of the day so that workers know for certain whether they are infected and need to stay at home.