The Government will do “everything in our power” to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Following the summer recess, Mr Hancock updated MPs on what the Government has been working on over the summer in order to control the virus.
In a Commons statement, he said: “I said in July that a second wave was rolling across Europe and sadly we’re now seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases in France and Spain.
“And the number of hospitalisations is sadly rising there too.
“We must do everything in our power to protect against a second wave here in the UK.”
Mr Hancock said a new rapid Covid-19 test that also picks up winter illnesses can be administered by non-healthcare professionals “in under 90 minutes”.
He added: “These tests do not require a trained health professional to operate them, so they can be rolled out in more non-clinical settings.”
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth questioned the Government’s track-and-trace figures, telling the Commons: “In order to avoid a second national lockdown, which we all want to avoid, an effective test and trace regime is absolutely vital.
“I listened carefully to the figures (Matt Hancock) outlined but he didn’t tell the House that of the numbers actually going into the system, they have fallen in the last week – down from 79% to 72%.
“This system is not yet world-beating.”
Mr Ashworth suggested money should be invested in local public health teams rather than paying for “so-called influencers on Instagram to big up test and trace”.
Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt asked whether it is the Government’s intention to introduce regular weekly testing for those who are in regular contact with members of the public.
He said: “(Matt Hancock) has made impressive progress in making testing available to everyone with Covid symptoms but I wonder if I could press him on the availability of tests for people who are asymptomatic.
“Could he confirm that it is the Government’s intention to introduce regular weekly testing for NHS staff, teachers, other people who are in regular contact with the public who could transmit the virus potentially, even if it can’t be done right away, it is the intention to do it as soon as possible?”
He added: “Surely that is the best way to reassure patients that their hospital is safe and parents that their kids’ school is safe as well.”
Mr Hancock responded: “It’s my intention to deploy as much testing as possible using the new testing innovations that are coming on-stream and to deploy it as widely as possible following clinical advice.
“We’ve set out the process that we propose to use for on the current generation of testing capability but if a new, easier type of test gets over the line then, of course, we’ll always keep that under clinical review and guided by the clinicians.”