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Covid-19: Community Testing

Volume 687: debated on Tuesday 12 January 2021

Community asymptomatic testing is an important tool in the fight against covid-19. We have delivered more than 5 million lateral flow tests to the 117 local authorities that have already gone live with testing their communities, and we are rapidly expanding the programme to all remaining local authorities in England, as well as working with devolved Administrations on their plans.

Ninety-four-year-old Tom Drury-Smith from Todwick was the first to receive the vaccine in Rother Valley at the Anston medical centre, thanks to the amazing work of the Rotherham CCG and the primary care network. Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to both community testing and vaccine uptake is to ensure that people do not have to travel far to access centres, especially those who are older and do not have access to cars? Can she assure me and others that vaccine centres and community testing centres will be sited as appropriately as possible, including in Rother valley areas such as Swallownest and Maltby?

It is great to hear about the work of the Rotherham CCG and my hon. Friend’s primary care network, which are clearly on the front foot in this vital work of vaccinating people who are at high risk in his community. As he may have heard from the Secretary of State earlier, we are making sure that everybody is able to access community testing as they need it and has a vaccination centre within reach.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the opening of community testing centres around Swadlincote in recent weeks, paving the way for greater testing capability and coverage right across Derbyshire? Will she also confirm that the rapid lateral flow tests being used are accurate and reliable and are an important tool in tackling asymptomatic transmission of the covid virus?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the opening of community testing centres in Swadlincote. Asymptomatic testing enables us to pick up cases in high prevalence areas that otherwise would go undetected, which means that we can break chains of transmission. There has been extensive clinical evaluation from Public Health England and Oxford University, which shows that lateral flow tests are appropriate for that use. They identify over two thirds of all people who have covid-19 but often do not have symptoms and, importantly, they catch the vast majority with a high viral load.

What can be done to provide schoolteachers in Lincoln and across the country with readily available rapid lateral flow antigen tests, to enable them to carry on teaching, schools to stay open and maybe exams to be taken?

I can assure my hon. Friend that most secondary schools and colleges have already set up testing sites and have begun weekly testing, using lateral flow devices for staff currently in school. Staff could also participate in daily contact testing on site, and primary schools will shortly be receiving test kits for weekly staff testing and also for daily contact testing.

We can have all the testing in the world, but it will not be effective if people do not self-isolate after a positive result. We have repeatedly said that compliance with self-isolation rules is not good enough; with only one in eight people qualifying for the self-isolation payment, that is not surprising. Can the Minister ensure that everyone is properly supported to self-isolate from now on and explain why those who test positive after a lateral flow test cannot apply for a payment and do not even enter the national test and trace system?

We absolutely recognise not only the importance of self-isolation, which is critical in breaking the chains of transmission, but that it is not always easy for people to do. We recognise, for instance, the cost of self-isolation, and that is why we introduced a payment of £500 for those who are on low incomes and unable to work from home while isolating. We will continue to make sure that people have the support they need to self-isolate.