MPs expressed astonishment last night after it emerged Boris Johnson was preparing to spend more than £40billion on his mass Covid testing programme.
The ‘absolutely staggering’ sum – almost three times the annual policing budget – will help deliver on his ‘operation moonshot’ pledge to help beat the pandemic.
But backbenchers warned that it would necessitate higher borrowing and raised the risk of tax increases.
MPs have become increasingly concerned about the huge amounts the Government is spending on the coronavirus crisis.
MPs expressed astonishment last night after it emerged Boris Johnson (pictured, today) was preparing to spend more than £40billion on his mass Covid testing programme
In July, ministers revealed £15billion had been spent on personal protective equipment, largely because suppliers had increased the price so much, while billions more has been spent on the furlough scheme and loans to help prop up struggling businesses. The Government has already borrowed more than £200billion so far this year.
Under his ‘moonshot’ strategy to get on top of the virus and open up the economy, the Prime Minister has promised a mass-testing programme to screen millions of people a week.
The extraordinary costs of the plan began to become clear yesterday when Public Health England issued a contract worth £22billion for a new national testing framework, which includes the manufacture and development of tests for the NHS over the next four years. The NHS has issued another tender worth £20billion which includes on-the-spot tests and diagnostics equipment.
The lateral flow tests have a turnaround time of under an hour and do not require laboratories. Two thousand soldiers were drafted in to assist with the pilot testing scheme (pictured)
A third tender for £1billion, covering just three and a half months, is for the supply of rapid turnaround ‘lateral flow’ tests. The contract could be enough to supply tests for the entire population.
The scale of the contracts dwarfs the £15.2billion budget of the police in England and Wales and that of several government departments. And it is equivalent to a third of the annual revenue budget for NHS England.
Former minister Steve Baker, a backbencher who sits on the Commons Treasury committee, said: ‘Such a sum is absolutely staggering. The returns will have to become very clear very quickly or we will throw away our centuries-old reputation for fiscal prudence.
It follows the first trial of city-wide testing in Liverpool, where its 500,000 residents are being offered tests Pictured: Soldiers at The Exhibition Centre in Liverpool, which is one of the testing centres part of the mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool
‘At present the Bank of England is printing money hand over fist to keep the bond market going.
‘This money-printing and borrowing is going to return and smack us round the back of the head before we’re all much older.’
Yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that mass testing for coronavirus will be rolled out to 67 more parts of the country.
Areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and several London boroughs will receive the rapid Covid-19 tests within days. At least 600,000 lateral flow tests will be sent out this week to kick-start the next stage of mass coronavirus testing, which ministers hope will root out asymptomatic cases.
It follows the first trial of city-wide testing in Liverpool, where its 500,000 residents are being offered tests.
Mr Hancock told the House of Commons yesterday afternoon: ‘The next step is to roll out this mass testing capability more widely’
Officials said some 10,000 tests will be made available to each area to help them start testing priority groups, which will then be followed up with a weekly allocation.
The lateral flow tests have a turnaround time of under an hour and do not require laboratories.
Mr Hancock told the House of Commons yesterday afternoon: ‘The next step is to roll out this mass testing capability more widely.
‘So I can tell the House that last night I wrote to 67 directors of public health who have expressed an interest in making 10,000 tests available immediately and making available lateral flow tests for use by local officials, according to local needs, at a rate of 10 per cent of their population per week. That same capacity – 10 per cent of the population per week – will be made available to the devolved administrations too.’
The Department of Health and Social Care said areas had been prioritised based on the local prevalence of Covid-19 and expressions of interest from their public health directors. Any director who wants to start rolling out lateral flow tests can do so by contacting the department.
Local teams could direct and deliver testing ‘based on their local knowledge’, the department added.
Areas due to receive the tests include Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Sunderland, Wolverhampton, Manchester, Luton and several London boroughs.
Coventry city council, which is among the local authorities to be part of the mass testing programme, hailed news of the additional tests.
George Duggins, Labour leader of the council, welcomed the initial batch of 10,000 tests but added: ‘It is noticeable [the extra testing capacity] 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 reimbursed for the considerable work they are all doing in helping to fight the pandemic.’
Mass rapid checks are pushed out to 67 more areas
By Health Correspondent
Mass testing for coronavirus will be available in 67 more parts of the country, the Health Secretary has confirmed.
Areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and several London boroughs will receive the rapid Covid-19 tests within days.
At least 600,000 lateral flow tests will be sent out across the UK this week to kick-start the next stage of mass testing, which ministers hope will root out asymptomatic cases. It follows the first trial of city-wide testing in Liverpool where its 500,000 residents are being offered tests.
Officials said some 10,000 tests, which have a turnaround time of under an hour, will be made available to each area to help start testing priority groups.
Matt Hancock told the Commons yesterday: ‘Last night I wrote to 67 directors of public health who have expressed an interest in making 10,000 tests available immediately and making available lateral flow tests for use by local officials, according to local needs, at a rate of 10 per cent of their population per week.’
The Department of Health said directors of public health had been prioritised for the first phase of rapid community testing.
But any director who wants to start rolling out local testing using lateral flow tests can do so by contacting the department. It added that teams could direct testing ‘based on their local knowledge’.
Areas due to receive the tests include Birmingham, Coventry, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Manchester and London boroughs such as Lambeth. Liz Gaulton, Coventry council’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.’
Mass-Covid testing scheme adopted in Liverpool will be rolled out across 67 authorities, Hancock reveals (so, is your town one of them?)
By Vanessa Chalmers
Mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across in nearly 70 more local authorities, the Health Secretary claimed today.
Matt Hancock revealed areas including Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands will receive the rapid Covid-19 tests. London, Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry are also among the cities to get a batch of tests.
At least 600,000 lateral flow tests will be sent out across the UK this week to kick-start the next stage of mass coronavirus testing, which ministers hope could finally send the virus packing.
The antigen tests can tell if a person is currently infected with coronavirus – even if they have no symptoms – and the technology can give results within an hour.
Every resident in Liverpool has been able to get tested for the disease since Friday, when the major army-backed scheme was first launched. The city, home to 500,000 people, was the first to be involved with No10’s ambitious ‘Operation Moonshot’ — a mission to screen millions of asymptomatic people every day.
Mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across 66 local authorities, the Health Secretary claimed today
Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Matt Hancock said mass coronavirus testing being used in Liverpool will be rolled out across 66 local authorities
Lateral flow tests have been available since Friday for people who live and work in Liverpool, which has been hard-hit by the coronavirus in the second wave. Two thousand soldiers were drafted in to assist with the pilot testing scheme (pictured)
WILL YOUR TOWN GET RAPID TESTS NEXT?
Despite Mr Hancock saying it was 66 authorities, the Department of Health today released a list of 67 authorities that will get the tests. These are:
- Barking and Dagenham
- Blackburn and Darwen
- City of London
- County Durham
- East Riding of Yorkshire
- Hammersmith and Fulham
- Kingston upon Hull
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Kingston upon Thames
- Newcastle upon Tyne
- North Tyneside
- Nottingham City
- Redcar and Cleveland
- Richmond upon Thames
- South Tyneside
- St Helen’s
- Tower Hamlets
- Waltham Forest
Stoke on Trent, Liverpool and Lancashire have already been provided with lateral flow tests before this week.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, Mr Hancock claimed 66 local authorities had already expressed interest in the mass-testing scheme. More are expected to sign up in the coming weeks.
Despite Mr Hancock saying it was 66 authorities, the Department of Health today released a list of 67 authorities that will get the rapid tests.
He added: ‘I can confirm we are rolling out the sort of mass testing we are seeing in Liverpool, and indeed we earlier piloted in Stoke-on-Trent, across 66 local authorities.
‘Last night I wrote to the directors of public health of all local authorities in England saying we can make available these brilliant new lateral flow tests that give results in 15 minutes, and we can make them available to directors of public health right across the country.
‘Sixty-six expressed an interest in the first instance, I’m now expecting a whole load more.’
Mr Hancock also said that mass testing, like a vaccine roll-out, would be across the UK not just England.
He added: ‘The UK Government has bought the vaccine for the whole of the UK and it will be rolled out fairly across the whole of the UK with the same prioritisation no matter where you live in this country.
‘The same goes for mass testing, making sure we roll that out across the whole UK.’
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said the ‘much more versatile’ lateral flow tests would be rolled out in Nottinghamshire as well as ‘across Yorkshire, the West Midlands, other parts of the North West and the whole of the North East and other parts’.
It comes after the revelation last night that some 600,000 lateral flow test kits were to be issued to more than 50 directors of public health across England in the coming days.
An initial batch of 10,000 will be followed up with a weekly allocation of the tests, reaching the equivalent to 10 per cent of the population, the Government announced.
Local health leaders will be able to determine the allocation of the tests based on the needs of their communities, and it is hoped that the rollout will enable priority and high-risk groups to be tested on a weekly basis.
Discussions for Nottinghamshire to become the next region for mass coronavirus testing took place on Monday afternoon, according to reports.
Stoke on Trent and Lancashire were already provided with lateral flow tests before this week, the Government said.
London boroughs and the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Newcastle are among the places to be sent a bunch of tests from No10 this week.
Lateral flow tests have been available since Friday in Liverpool, where people who live and work there have been encouraged to get tested for Covid-19 even if they do not have symptoms.
A huge challenge of squashing the outbreak is to detect ‘silent carriers’ of the coronavirus so they can self-isolate before spreading the disease on further.
Queues built up outside the new test centres with people waiting around 45 minutes outside the Liverpool Tennis Centre before it opened. There are now 16 testing sites across the city.
Liverpool’s director of public health, Matt Ashton, said the mass testing was showing positive signs after thousands of people were tested on the first day of the pilot scheme.
The programme aims to test up to 50,000 people a day once fully operational, he added.
The city’s mayor, Joe Anderson, on Monday said around 162 people carrying the coronavirus had been detected through the scheme, who may otherwise not have been diagnosed.
This was 0.7 per cent of the 23,170 people swabbed since midday on Friday.
Cases are collected by NHS Test and Trace and those with a positive result must self-isolate along with their household immediately for at least 10 days.
Last night Mr Johnson urged people in Liverpool to take part in the voluntary pilot scheme ‘for your friends, for your relatives, for your community’ in a bid to ‘drive the disease down’.
He told a Downing Street press conference on Monday: ‘Our first pilot began in Liverpool on Friday in partnership with Liverpool City Council.
‘We’ve tested thousands of people there, but there’s still a lot more to do.
People queue at a coronavirus testing centre at the Liverpool Tennis Centre in Wavertree, part of the mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool, Friday November 6
Soldiers at The Exhibition Centre in Liverpool, which is one of the testing centres part of the mass Covid-19 testing in Liverpool
Brigadier Joe Fossey, who is coordinating mass testing in Liverpool, told the Downing Street press conference on Monday night: ‘What we are trialling now is a possible route out of lockdown and a way to get on with our lives’. He is holding a lateral flow test
WHAT IS OPERATION MOONSHOT AND WHAT IS GOING ON IN LIVERPOOL?
Operation Moonshot is the Government’s plan to get millions of people tested and given a result on the same day.
Tests would be routinely given to hospital staff, carers and swathes of the workforce to try and jump-start the economy.
But there have been serious doubts about whether Number 10 is capable of pulling it off.
Currently the Department of Health has a testing capacity of around 500,000.
And just 15 per cent of people who have an in-person test currently get a result within 24 hours.
Moonshot is seen as the only way out of the perpetual loosening and tightening of lockdown curbs without a viable vaccine.
The city of 500,000 is being used by officials as a pilot to see if it can pull off rapid testing on a mass scale.
Tests which give results in about an hour will be used in the trial, as well as the normal PCR swab tests that are already used in centres across the country.
Hospitals in the city were originally supposed to have a 20-minute test at their disposal – to be used to routinely test all of their staff – but it emerged today the machines are less than 50 per cent accurate.
The tests will still be used in small a scheme on hospital staff in Liverpool but there are now worries that they aren’t good enough.
‘So please, if you are in Liverpool, get yourself along to a testing centre – there are 19 at the moment with more still to come and the more people get tested, the better we can protect that great city and drive the disease down in Liverpool.
‘So, do it for your friends, for your relatives, for your community.’
His comments were echoed by Brigadier Joe Fossey, who is coordinating mass testing in Liverpool.
He told the press conference: ‘What we are trialling now is a possible route out of lockdown and a way to get on with our lives.’
Two thousand soldiers were drafted in to assist with the pilot testing scheme of around 500,000 residents in Liverpool.
There have been serious doubts about how the scheme could be pulled off on a national scale if all towns and cities were to need the help of troops.
Using Liverpool as a reference – with 2,000 soldiers deployed per half a million residents – it would mean the UK would need to use 260,000 servicemen and women – more than three times the number of troops currently serving in the British Army (79,300), according to Statista.
But the pilot in Liverpool will only last for 10 days, suggesting soldiers will be moved around the UK depending on where the pop-up rapid testing is taking place.
Lateral flow tests, which work like pregnancy tests and give results in under an hour, will be used along with existing PCR swab tests.
Both work in ultimately the same way, amplifying genetic material then looking for signs of the virus.
But lateral flow devices have a lower specificity and sensitivity than PCR tests, meaning they aren’t as accurate at identifying true positive or negative coronavirus cases.
Lateral flow uses a different type of enzyme which allows the test to be done at one temperature, which makes it faster but less accurate.
PCR uses another type of enzyme and the process has to be repeated at different temperatures, which means it takes longer but is more accurate.
PCR tests must also be read by a lab technician, which slows the process of getting a result back.
Fast turnaround times for test results are considered critical for a smooth contact tracing system.