MASS coronavirus testing dubbed Operation Moonshot will be trialled in the coming days, Boris Johnson has revealed.
The Prime Minister told MPs today that the army has been drafted in to help expand the rapid Covid-19 testing programme.
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He hailed advances in medicine including “virtually instant” tests and said there is a “real prospect” of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year.
It comes as the country prepares to enter another national lockdown on Thursday before returning to a regional tiered system on December 2.
Speaking the Commons, Mr Johnson told MPs that while scientists are “bleak” in their short-term predictions, they remain “unanimously optimistic about the medium and the long-term”.
“If the House asks me what is the exit strategy, what is the way out – let me be as clear as I can: the way out is to get the R down now to beat this autumn surge and to use this moment to exploit the medical and technical advances we’re making to keep it low,” he said.
The way out is to get the R down now to beat this autumn surge
“We now have not only the much better medication, the prospect of a vaccine and we have the immediate prospect of many millions of cheap, reliable and rapid turnaround tests with a result in minutes.
“Trials have already shown we can suppress the disease in hospitals, schools and universities by testing large numbers of NHS workers, children and teachers and students.
“These tests crucially identify people who are infectious but who do not have symptoms, allowing them to immediately self-isolate and stop the spread of the disease and allowing those who are not infectious to continue as normal.
What is Operation Moonshot?
OPERATION Moonshot is the name of the Government’s newly proposed Covid-19 mass testing scheme.
Moonshot testing promises to deliver coronavirus test results in just 15 minutes.
It would take the form of mass at-home testing and could see up to 10 million tests carried out every day from the comfort of people’s own homes.
The test would not need to be processed in a lab to be developed, so that users get their results in a matter of minutes rather than days.
Similar to a pregnancy test, the saliva test would eliminate the need for people to travel – sometimes long distances – to testing centres before returning home to wait for the result.
The aim of the tests is to start fully reopening society and getting the economy up and running even before a Covid vaccine has been developed.
Under the plan, Brits would swab themselves in the morning and be given a 24-hour pass to mingle without having to stick to social distancing rules.
A person could prove they had tested negative by either electronically presenting their result, or showing a printed card.
The tests are reportedly due to be trialled in the Covid hotspot of Salford from this month.
However it comes with a steep price tag almost as much as NHS England’s £114billion budget in 2018/19.
The Moonshot proposals come as the current testing programme faces considerable criticism for struggling to meet demand
“This means that unlike the spring it’s possible to keep these institutions open and still stop the spread of the disease.
“So over the next few days and weeks we plan a steady but massive expansion of these quick turnaround tests which we will be manufacturing in this country, applying them in an ever growing number of situations.
“From helping women have their partners with them when they are giving birth, to testing whole towns and cities.
“The army has been brought into work on the logistics of the programme which will begin in a matter of days.”
Mr Johnson also flagged dexamethasone as a treatment, adding: “We have the real prospect of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year.”
He went on: “I believe these technical developments taken together will enable us to defeat the virus by the spring, as humanity has defeated every other infectious disease and I’m not alone in this optimism.
“But I cannot pretend the way ahead is easy without painful choices for us all, and so for the next four weeks I must again ask the people of this country to come together, to protect the NHS and to save many thousands of lives.”
Mr Johnson also reassured the House that the country will not be returning to the full-scale lockdown seen in March and April.
“Let me stress that these restrictions are time-limited,” he said.
“After four weeks on Wednesday 2nd December they will expire and we intend to return to a tiered system on a local and regional basis according to the latest data and trends and the House will have a vote to agree the way forward.”
He insisted that the national lockdown, if approved by MPs, will automatically expire next month and said that the Commons “will have a vote to agree the way forward”.
And the PM warned that “without action” there could be twice as many deaths over the winter as in the first wave, meaning there is “no alternative” but another national lockdown.
He said Covid-19 presents an “existential threat” to the NHS with doctors being forced to choose which patients to treat and “who would live and who would die”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister and Chancellor had “failed to learn” lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.
He told the Commons: “The central lesson from the first wave of this virus was that if you don’t act early and decisively the cost will be far worse, more people will lose their jobs, more businesses will be forced to close and tragically more people will lose their loved ones.
“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor failed to learn this lesson.
“As a result, this lockdown will be longer than it needed to be, at least four weeks, it will be harder – we’ve just missed half-term – and the human cost will be higher.”
Earlier, a scientist advising the Government said “thousands of lives” would have been saved if a two-week “circuit-breaker” was imposed when it was recommended by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on September 21.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the move would also have “inflicted substantially less damage” to the economy than the new national lockdown.
Instead, the Prime Minister continued to pursue his regional approach until Thursday when severe restrictions on social contact will again be imposed across the nation.
People will be allowed to exercise and socialise in outdoor public spaces with their household or one other person, while schools, colleges and nurseries will stay open.
Meanwhile, new figures out today showed the UK recorded the fewest daily coronavirus cases in a fortnight.
Cases have plunged by 2,000 on last Monday with 18,950 more contracting the deadly bug and 136 deaths.
This time last week, 20,890 people tested positive, and 102 lost their lives.
Today’s grim tally comes 23,254 positive tests yesterday – the highest Sunday total ever recorded in the country.
And 162 deaths were also recorded yesterday – higher than the number of people reported to have lost their lives today.