British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has disclosed that everyone in England would be able to take a COVID-19 test twice a week in a new drive to track the pandemic.
He said that the move had become imperative to ensure safe reopening of society and economy as the vaccine rollout continues at its rapid rate.
Johnson, who is expected to confirm plans to relaunch international travel and open sections of the economy later on Monday, said that the new mass testing programme would break the chain of transmissions and spot cases without symptoms.
As much of Europe enters new lockdowns to tackle surging cases, Johnson has set out a staggered plan to ease restrictions in the coming months, a huge boost for one of the worst-hit countries during the pandemic.
“As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our roadmap to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted,” Johnson said in a statement.
Junior health minister, Edward Argar, said the tests would be sent to homes or businesses or picked up from pharmacies or test centres. He said that he was confident people would isolate him.
“People are doing the right thing,” he told Sky News.
The increased testing would help health officials to track the pandemic as the country slowly reopens from a strict four-month lockdown.
Johnson is expected to confirm that all retail, outdoor hospitality and hairdressers can reopen on April 12 in England, while a traffic-light system for countries based on infection and vaccination levels will be used for international travel.
Vaccine passports are also being trialled for mass events. Under the current plan, international travel would not resume until May 17 at the earliest. The Financial Times said Johnson was not expected to set out a specific timeframe.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following their own, similar paths out of a strict lockdown that was imposed at the beginning of this year.
Britain was able to pursue a recovery after it gave AstraZeneca and Pfizer shots to well over half the adult population. A reopening of schools in March has also not yet led to a spike in cases, despite increased testing.