Leicester has so far been missed off the list of cities involved in the Government’s mass roll-out of coronavirus testing.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced a ramping up of testing in parts of England and plans to send 600,000 new testing kits to nearly 70 areas in a bid to try to stem the second wave.
Leicester should be a prime contender to be included in the testing programme, as it currently sits at number 36 on the list of areas in the UK with the highest infection rates, and has more cases per 100,000 people than Nottingham, Birmingham and Coventry, which have all already had their involvement confirmed.
But to be included, an area also needs to be make a request to the Govenment.
LeicestershireLive asked both the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the city council if Leicester had expressed an interest in being involved in the scheme, but has not received a clear response.
Leicester’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said ‘as far as he was aware’ the city had sought to be included in the pilot scheme and said the council is now set to have a crunch meeting with health secretary MattHancock on Friday in the hope Leicester will be included – days after the other cities had their involvement confirmed.
Sir Peter said: “I’m puzzled because we have shown to be capable of delivering local tracing in a way that helped push rates down.
“At one time Leicester was the place where the Government looked to experiment with ways of tackling infection rates but not any more.”
“Even if there is some scepticism about how successful it may be, we will be saying we should be included in this if there is any chance this could be a game-changer.”
Coventry City Council has welcomed news of additional tests.
Liz Gaulton, the city’s director of public health, said: “Anything that will help in the battle to reduce the number of positive cases in the city is to be welcomed.”
Councillor George Duggins, Labour leader of the council, welcomed the initial batch of 10,000 tests destined for the city but warned against complacency.
He said: “Although this news of the additional testing for the city is welcome, it is noticeable it comes with no additional funding for rolling it out or implementing, which means additional expense to all local authorities.
“We will of course do that, but all local authorities need to be recognised and reimbursed for the considerable work they are all doing in helping to fight the pandemic.”
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The DHSC said lateral flow antigen test kits will be issued to more than 50 directors of public health across England this week, to allow local teams to direct and deliver community testing based on their local knowledge.
The new kits use technology that could be used to test a higher proportion of asymptomatic people, better the identification of people who are likely to spread the virus.
Lateral flow devices do not require a laboratory to process the test. Swabbing and processing of these tests must currently be conducted at a dedicated testing site by trained personnel.
Each chosen will receive a batch of 10,000 antigen lateral flow devices as part of a new pilot to enable them to start testing priority groups.
A DHSC spokesman said: “Directors of public health will determine how to prioritise the allocation of these new tests, based on the specific needs of their communities, and will determine how people in the local area are tested.
“They will be supported by NHS Test and Trace to expand testing programmes in their area through access to training and clinical and operational guidance.
This initial 600,000 batch will then be followed up with a weekly allocation of lateral flow antigen tests.
The DHSC added: “Directors of public health were prioritised for the first phase of rapid community testing based on the local prevalence of Covid-19 and expressions of interest to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It said: “Any director of public health who wants to start rolling out local testing using lateral flow tests can do so by contacting DHSC.”
Mr Hancock said: “Last week we rolled out mass testing in Liverpool using new, rapid technology so we can detect this virus quicker than ever before, even in people who don’t have symptoms. Mass testing is a vital tool to help us control this virus and get life more normal.
“I am delighted to say 10,000 of these tests will now be sent out by NHS Test and Trace to over 50 directors of public health as part of our asymptomatic testing strategy.
“I want to thank all directors of public health for their support and efforts over the past months to help us tackle this virus, bring it under control and get the country back to what we love doing.”