Anyone aged five and older in the UK with symptoms can now be tested for coronavirus, said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
He was speaking to Parliament after the loss of taste or odor was added to the list of symptoms of Covid-19, with a fever and a persistent new cough.
Hancock said the government “is expanding test eligibility more than ever.”
He added that 100,678 tests were carried out on Sunday.
Tests in England and Scotland were limited to people with symptoms who are key workers and their families, hospital patients, residents of nursing homes, those over 65 and those who have to leave home to work.
In Wales and Northern Ireland, these were only key workers, hospital workers and residents of nursing homes.
Hancock said priority for testing would always be given to NHS staff and nursing home workers and residents to “protect our most vulnerable.”
An additional 160 coronavirus deaths were recorded in the UK at 5:00 p.m. Paris time Sunday, bringing the official total to 34,796, the highest in Europe.
Earlier, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the extension of testing there, as it revealed that the lockout measures would be relaxed from May 28.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has also announced an easing of the lockout, including new rules to allow groups of four to six people who do not share a household to meet outside.
The British government has stepped up the tests and included it in its five targets for breaking the lockout.
The Prime Minister set a target of a daily capacity of 200,000 people at the end of the month and last week the UK had reached a capacity of 150,000 people a day.
The largest number of tests done in one day so far is 136,000 on Friday, but that included kits mailed and not necessarily returned.
Health care professionals have expressed concerns about the accuracy of certain tests and the time it takes for results to be returned to patients.
NHS Providers, the association of NHS trusts in England, said the average return to the test was five days, with the longest wait being 13 days.
Chief Executive Officer Chris Hopson said the testing regime was “still far from the target” and said the gap between the tone in public statements and the reality ground was “painfully broad”.
One person who had been tested in Lea Valley in north London, Michael Saunders, told Hugh Pym of the BBC that it was “disappointing” that he had been waiting five days for his result.
“If you want to make testing a central part of how we treat this virus, you have to do it right,” he said.
Ghost Secretary of Health and Social Services Jonathan Ashworth has insisted with the government on the time required to obtain results on the presence or absence of Covid-19.
He also asked whether facilities could be put in place to allow the poorest people to isolate themselves if they were required to do so and whether people in precarious work situations would be guaranteed sickness benefits if asked to isolate.
The expansion of the testing program could make the headlines.
This is an important step – in less than two months, the UK has moved from the mere possibility of testing hospital patients and healthcare and healthcare staff to a more or less large-scale offering.
However, this should not mask the difficulties that remain in obtaining the operational test, monitoring and trace system.
This will be essential to contain local epidemics as we break free from the lockdown.
Some tests still take too long to run for some – a significant number should wait several days – while the piloting of the tracking application on the Isle of Wight is not yet complete.
Of particular concern is that the app does not yet let users know if the person they have been in contact with ends up being positive. Instead, he only let them know if the contact had developed symptoms.
This is a major problem. This means that people have been left in limbo and the integration of this functionality into the app will be important.
Progress is underway, but the rapid establishment of a viable and efficient system remains a monumental challenge.
Hancock also said the government was in the “final stages” of negotiations to purchase new Covid-19 antibody tests.
A test developed by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche was approved by Public Health England last week.
Hancock said the evolution of tracking and tracing means that England is on track to meet the requirements for the next phase of easing of the lock-in restrictions on 1 June.
He told Parliament that 21,000 people had been recruited to do contact tracing in England, including 7,500 health workers.
It is at this point that people who have come into contact with a person infected with the virus are found and potentially asked to isolate themselves.
New recruits will be trained to identify people and advise them on whether to isolate.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab defended the government’s record on testing and the development of the test and trace application.
He said, “We are learning throughout this pandemic, not only scientifically, but also the innovation that we need to control it.
“We are making good progress on testing and plotting and on the Isle of Wight pilot compared to the application. “
The Minister of Foreign Affairs said the application would be ready “in the coming weeks” but could not confirm that it would be ready before the children returned to school.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said on Monday that it is only after there is a vaccine “truly capable of suppressing disease levels” that the country will be “out of this.”
“So from this standpoint, we may have to live and learn to live with this virus for the long term, certainly for many months, if not several years,” he said.
He added that it was unclear whether there was a seasonality of the virus and whether it would return in the fall and winter.
The government announced on Sunday that it would agree to 30 million doses of the vaccine if a trial at Oxford University succeeds.
The first indications that a vaccine can train people’s immune systems to fight the coronavirus have been reported by an American company.
Anosmia – loss of smell – has officially been added to the main symptoms of Covid-19, but Professor Van-Tam said it is rare for it to be present without other symptoms.
Eligibility tests, like foreclosure measures, are left to individual nations to establish their own rules. Hancock made his announcement about expanding testing across the UK after the four nations agreed to the change.
In other news:
- London mayor Sadiq Khan urged ministers to introduce a new contact tracing regime in the capital before other parts of the country.
- In Scotland, Celtic was declared Scottish Premiership champion after the end of the football season due to a coronavirus
- About 38% of nursing homes in England reported virus outbreaks on Sunday, according to Downing Street
Security personnel trained in crowd control have been put on duty at some major stations following the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England
- Transport secretary said people arriving in the UK from countries with low rates of coronavirus infection could be exempt from the new quarantine rules
- More than two million self-employed workers whose companies are affected by coronavirus have applied for government grants
- Greek Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis has called on the UK to exempt the Greeks from quarantine measures in exchange for the possibility for British citizens to travel to Greece.