All businesses in England are now able to sign up to receive free rapid coronavirus tests under the Government’s workplace testing programme.
From Saturday, businesses of all sizes, including those with fewer than 50 employees, can register to order lateral flow tests for their workers, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The department said that rapid Covid-19 testing, where results can be returned in under 30 minutes, would help people testing positive to “isolate immediately” as well as “breaking chains of transmission”.
Businesses have until March 31 to register for the scheme, which will remain free until the end of June.
DHSC said so far more than 3,500 businesses had signed up to offer workplace testing programmes, and more than 14,000 had registered their interest in offering rapid testing.
The department said regular testing “could be the difference between a workplace being able to stay open and operational, or needing to close due to a Covid-19 outbreak”.
Testing is an integral part of the Government’s plan to gradually ease coronavirus restrictions in the coming months, but current advice is that people who can work from home should continue to do so.
As part of its roadmap out of lockdown, the Government has said that by June 21 it will have conducted a review examining social-distancing measures, the use of face masks and requirements around working from home.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Regular workplace testing is a vital part of our route back to normal life.”
He added: “These rapid tests will allow positive cases of Covid-19 to be caught quickly, which is crucial in helping businesses protect their workplaces and employees as we cautiously lift restrictions.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director to Public Health England and chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, said rapid testing could help detect asymptomatic cases quickly and stop workplace outbreaks occurring.
She added: “Combined with other protective measures, rapid testing is a vital tool to help us lower infection rates and ensure that they stay low. If you’re offered a test, please do take it.”
DHSC said the expansion of asymptomatic testing was “well underway” in larger companies for those who need to leave home for work.
It said both private and public sector employers had signed up to provide rapid testing at asymptomatic testing sites, alongside a “self-test” option for those that cannot access a workplace testing site.
Businesses can find out more about rapid workplace testing via an online portal at: www.gov.uk/get-workplace-coronavirus-tests.
All local authorities in England are also offering rapid lateral flow testing for small businesses if they are unable to offer it at the workplace.
Organisations representing businesses said testing support was “vital”.
Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said a workplace testing infrastructure that works for firms and consumers was “fundamental to bringing the coronavirus under control and ensuring that this current lockdown is the last”.
“It’s great to see that the smallest businesses can now apply to set-up testing facilities on their premises,” he added.
“It’s vital that they are given all the support they need to do so successfully as they focus on staying afloat in extremely changing circumstances.”
Confederation of British Industry (CBI) chief UK policy director Matthew Fell, said helping more companies access testing was would “help protect workers and help stifle Covid transmission”.
He said: “Businesses appreciate that regular mass testing can play a vital role in a safe re-opening, helping to build staff confidence and adding a layer of resilience to help firms stay open.”
Mr Fell added: “Increasing take-up will be vital if we are to meet the timetable set out in the Prime Minister’s roadmap and safely loosen restrictions for summer.”