LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain will launch a Covid-19 mass testing pilot scheme in Liverpool this week, offering everyone in the city tests whether or not they have symptoms, in an attempt to find a better way to use testing to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised a "world-beating" national test-and-trace system earlier this year, but the scheme has disappointed and the government's scientific advisory body said last month its impact on virus transmission was marginal.
The United Kingdom has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, and a second national lockdown is due to come into force in England on Thursday (Nov 5).
The government said the Liverpool pilot would start on Friday using PCR swab tests, the default testing method to date, as well as new lateral flow tests aimed at delivering faster results without the need for laboratory processing.
Everyone living or working in the city in northwest England, one of the worst-hit in the country, will be offered repeat tests at existing sites as well as numerous new sites including care homes, schools, universities and workplaces.
Mr Johnson said that dependent on the pilot's success, millions of the new rapid tests could be distributed elsewhere in the country before Christmas to help local authorities 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," Mr Johnson said in a statement.
Some 2,000 military personnel will be deployed in the city from Thursday to help deliver the tests.
Lateral flow tests involve applying a swab from the nose and throat to a special test kit designed to provide a rapid result without the need for a full-scale laboratory.
The pilot will also make use of "LAMP", or loop mediated isothermal amplification, which the government described as a new type of testing technology able to deliver significant volumes of tests. The method will be used to test National Health Service staff working at Liverpool University Hospitals.
Liverpool was the first city to be placed in the highest of three Covid-19 alert levels in England's new tiered response system. Weekly cases stood at over 410 per 100,000 people as of Oct 25.