Workplace Covid testing extended to smaller employers

The Government is to extend its employer coronavirus testing scheme by offering free testing kits to companies with more than 10 employees.

From 6 April, smaller employers in England will be able to access lateral flow tests. They must register by 12 April and the kits are free up until 30 June.

The Government said around 60,000 companies had already signed up for workplace testing, where lateral flow tests are used to detect asymptomatic cases and help prevent workplace outbreaks.

Results from the tests are available within 30 minutes. If a worker tests positive, they can isolate immediately and break the chain of transmission. Staff can pick up or be sent the tests from their employer to do at home, and report results to the government coronavirus portal. They can then follow up with a confirmatory PCR test if necessary.

The tests are already being used for staff and pupils in secondary schools and colleges twice a week. Initially, only companies with more than 250 employees were able to order the tests, but this has now been extended.

Late last week, chancellor Rishi Sunak hinted that there could be another government push to encourage employees back to offices as the vaccine roll-out gathers pace and restrictions ease. He said that employers that closed their offices fully could lose staff who "vote with their feet" and go to rival employers who will enable them to work on-site.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said that testing was a "vital part of our roadmap, helping us to cautiously lift restrictions on our economy and society".

"Around one in three people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms, so extending employee testing from the workplace to the home will help us identify more cases we otherwise wouldn't find, prevent further transmission and save lives."

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director for the CBI, said being able to do the tests at home would help more workplaces to embrace testing.

"Not all employers will have the space or facilities to run testing programmes on their premises," he said.

"The move to home testing reflects ongoing, high quality dialogue between business and government. We'd encourage as many firms as possible to register before the 12 April deadline, as part of their broader efforts to keep staff and customers safe."

Employers with fewer than 10 people can access community testing initiatives for asymptomatic people. The government said it was also building plans to enable small businesses to order the tests online.

Estimates suggest that around one in three people with coronavirus do not have symptoms. Last week, data from the Office for National Statistics showed that 86% of people who tested positive were then fully complying with self-isolation guidance.

John Thatcher, CEO of training company Eastwood Park, said workplace testing had been a "confidence boost" for staff and learners.

"We originally invested in testing kits for all staff and the hundreds of learners returning to our classroom and laboratory-based training.

"Now to benefit from support from the government providing kits for staff, which on average could mean 120 tests per week, is allowing us to focus on our learners. The additional security and ease presented by the new self-testing operation, sitting alongside all the other day to day measures, has been a big confidence boost for everyone."

A number of larger employers have introduced their own workplace testing schemes, including retailer John Lewis, which launched testing across stores and supply chain sites last December.