COVID-19: Twice-weekly lateral flow coronavirus tests now available for free in England

Everyone in England can now get twice-weekly COVID tests for free under a new effort to keep the journey out of lockdown on track.

Ministers hope regular use of the rapid lateral flow tests will become a habit and help keep cases low as the economy reopens.

The tests will be available from locations such as pharmacies, workplaces and community spaces – and can also be ordered for home delivery.

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A publicity drive on TV, online and print will urge the public to take the "next step safely".

Lateral flow devices have the advantage of giving a result in under 30 minutes but aren’t as accurate as "gold standard" PCR tests, which must be sent to a lab.

Government adverts – the first of which will go out on ITV tonight at 7.15pm – will encourage people to make the test part of their morning routine.

It’s hoped an increase in testing will identify more of the one in three cases who don’t have symptoms, allowing them to isolate and break the chain of transmission.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is encouraging everyone to participate and said regular testing was "one of the simplest and easiest ways we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe".

"Alongside the successful rollout of the vaccination programme, rapid testing will be one of our most effective weapons in tackling this virus and ensuring we can cautiously reopen our economy and parts of society that we have all missed," said Mr Hancock.

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"The British people have made a tremendous effort throughout the pandemic and I am confident they will do the same now by taking up this offer of free, rapid tests."

Lateral flow tests involve a swab in the nose or mouth, with the user able to get the result at home without sending it away.

Concerns over their accuracy linger however.

They are most effective at finding people who have a high viral load and are particularly infectious.

A review of 64 studies into lateral flow tests, mostly in Europe and the US, also found the accuracy of different brands "varies widely".

But the government says analysis by NHS Test and Trace shows that for every 1,000 lateral flow tests there is fewer than one false positive result.

It adds that the tests are very effective in finding people who don’t have symptoms.

The new initiative is designed to root out people who aren’t showing any signs of infection.

Anyone showing typical COVID symptoms such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change of smell or taste should book a PCR test online or by calling 119.

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