Every resident of Liverpool will be offered a Covid test as the first major step for Operation Moonshot – the scheme that the Government hopes will help it get on top of the crisis by the spring.
Starting from Friday, the city’s 500,000 residents will be asked to go for regular checks.
If successful, the city-wide approach is expected to be rolled out to towns and cities nationwide.
Residents in Liverpool will be offered a Covid test as the first major step for Operation Moonshot. (Stock image)
Boris Johnson declared that mass testing, combined with progress on a vaccine and medical treatments, could finally send the virus packing.
He told MPs yesterday: ‘I believe that those technical developments, taken together, will enable us to defeat the virus by the spring, as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease, and I am not alone in this optimism.’
Operation Moonshot’s Liverpool pilot – under which 2,000 military personnel will be deployed to help – will involve hundreds more test centres set up at schools, hospitals, and workplaces.
Officials believe tackling entire cities will drive down infection rates by breaking the chain of transmission, offering a route out of devastating lockdowns.
They hope repeat testing of anyone living or working there will flush out all cases, including those showing no symptoms, forcing them to self-isolate.
Mr Johnson announced a ‘massive expansion’ of fast-turnaround tests.
He said: ‘These tests will help identify the many thousands of people in the city who don’t have symptoms but can still infect others without knowing.
‘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.’
Hospitals, schools, care homes and other key institutions will be the first priority. But the tests could ultimately be used to free up large sections of society.
Ministers are pinning their hopes on testing after rising cases led to Mr Johnson putting the country back in lockdown from Thursday.
In the Liverpool pilot, residents will be able to get a test by booking online, by walk-up or by invitation from their local authority, with results sent via text and email.
Positive results will be collected by NHS Test and Trace and published as part of the daily case numbers.
Anyone who tests positive must immediately self-isolate along with their household, and their contacts will be traced.
Those who test negative will need to continue to follow national guidance.
Mr Johnson said millions of tests would be manufactured in the UK in the coming months.
These will be a mixture of swab tests, as well as new lateral flow tests which can turn around results within an hour without the need to be processed in a lab.
Using the same technology used in pregnancy tests, they detect antibodies in the blood, indicating a patient has Covid-19 or has had the disease and recovered.
Lamp tests, short for loop-mediated isothermal amplification, will be deployed at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to check NHS workers.
These can deliver results in 60 to 90minutes.
Liverpool city council will set out how residents and workers will be able to access the tests this week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged everyone in Liverpool to ‘play their part’ by getting tested.
Ministers hope that mass testing could be used in wider applications, such as enabling visits to theatres and stadiums.
But a Government source said that although officials are confident the technology works, there is still work to do on the logistics to make it available to millions.