Operation Moonshot finally lifts off with mass-testing in Liverpool

Around 500,000 people living in Liverpool will be offered weekly rapid turnaround Covid-19 tests as part of an ambitious mass testing scheme.

From Friday, anyone living or working in the city will be regularly encouraged to take tests – even if they have no symptoms – as part of the pilot launching one day after the country is put under a second lockdown.

Signalling the first major step in the Government’s anticipated Operation Moonshot, Boris Johnson said the scheme ‘has the potential to be a powerful new weapon in our fight against Covid-19’ and vowed to distribute ‘millions between now and Christmas’.

The aim of the pilot is to find asymptomatic cases so test and tracers can inform more people to self-isolate in a bid to help prevent and reduce transmission in the community.

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Liverpool, which has been under tier three restrictions for almost three weeks, has one of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country with intensive care units almost at capacity. It recorded 366.4 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for the seven days to October 29.

The scheme will see about 2,000 members of the armed forces working alongside NHS staff to administer hundreds of thousands of rapid turnaround tests to residents.

Testing will be carried out in new and existing Covid-19 sites across Liverpool, including in hospitals, care home settings, schools, universities, workplaces and using at-home kits.

People can book a test online, by walk-in, or by invitation from the local authority and some will be able to receive a result within an hour.

It is thought other cities with high transmission rates will be considered for the scheme next, in order for local authorities to gain a better picture of how the virus is spreading across their communities.

Announcing the scheme, the prime minister said it could be a ‘game changer’ in the country’s battle against the virus, following months of criticism against the test and trace scheme.

Johnson said: ‘These tests will help identify the many thousands of people in the city who don’t have symptoms but can still infect others without knowing.

‘Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas and empower local communities to use them to 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.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to ‘play their part’ by getting a test from this week.

He said: ‘Using half a million of the very latest rapid tests, this rollout can help suppress the virus and give residents and workers some peace of mind.

‘Everyone in Liverpool can help play their part by getting a test and following the rules, including the critical basics of hands, space, face.’

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: ‘We are pleased that our numerous conversations have resulted in Liverpool becoming a pilot for mass testing, which will help to quickly identify people who have the virus and reduce transmission substantially.’

Interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection Baroness Dido Harding said the pilot is a ‘really important step forward’, adding: ‘By everyone in Liverpool coming forward to get tested, and isolating if they need to, we have a real opportunity to make a massive difference.’

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