The government will begin testing wastewater to track the coronavirus and may ban domestic travel to stop local outbreaks.
Infected people are thought to shed coronavirus material in their stool soon after symptoms appear, meaning sewage could act as a faster indicator of the presence of Covid-19 than swab tests .
This led the government to step up mass testing of wastewater across the country after trials at 44 sites in England could identify local increases in infection.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the measure would give officials a “head start” in tackling new epidemics.
A wave of localized outbreaks across England prompted Downing Street to discuss sweeping proposals to shake up its response to the crisis.
This could include banning travel in and out of high infection areas as part of a “flexible” strategy to avoid another national lockdown that would derail the economic recovery.
The idea of locking down London was touted in March when the capital suffered the heaviest of cases. He could be resuscitated in the event of a second wave, with the lock zone set by the M25.
In other developments –
- Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out Restaurant Discount Program launched today, offering customers 50% off meals;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced 90-minute “transformative” Covid tests to be rolled out starting next week;
- Greater Manchester officials have declared a “major incident” after an increase in local cases;
- Public spaces have been allowed to reopen in parts of Leicester and residents have been urged to revert to national social distancing guidelines.
Boris Johnson’s government will begin testing wastewater for local outbreaks. The Prime Minister is pictured on Friday
Scientists have long known that the coronavirus can be detected in wastewater, with tests in Barcelona showing the virus was circulating as early as March 2019.
This led to British scientists conducting their own trials, which confirmed the measurement was accurate and could be deployed across the country.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told The Sun: “The purpose of this new research is to give us a head start on epidemics.
“We work closely with researchers, water companies and decentralized governments. Analysis from Bangor University showed the volume of coronavirus in sewage samples dropped after the lockdown was imposed.
Professor Davey Jones, who contributed to the study, told the British Medical Journal: “If there is an infected person in a population of 10,000, we can recover them. It’s so sensitive.
Sewage testing may also be safer than swab testing because there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through sewage, according to the World Health Organization.
The measure is part of a larger reshuffle of the government’s response to the coronavirus following a series of localized outbreaks.
This could include banning travel between areas with high infection rates.
The Times reports that the notion of an interior travel ban has resurfaced in government in recent days, after initially being touted in the early stages of the pandemic when London became a Covid hotspot.
Plans to isolate the capital to stem the spread of Covid-19 have been shelved, but could be revived as part of Boris Johnson’s new targeted approach.
Strengthened powers have already given ministers the ability to impose such travel bans with police enforcement.
Wastewater could act as a faster indicator of the presence of Covid-19 than swab testing. File photo
It came as a major incident was declared today in Greater Manchester due to rising rates of coronavirus infection in ‘several locations’.
The decision to increase the readiness of emergency services and public services to respond to the escalating rate of transmission of Covid-19 in the region comes after the government on Thursday announced new lockdown restrictions for parts of North West England.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Thursday evening that people from different households in Greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire and West Yorkshire would be banned from meeting inside their homes or in gardens following an increase in virus cases.
The new rules also prohibited members of two different households from mingling in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues, but these businesses are allowed to remain open for those visiting individually or from the same household.
Officials also drew up plans that could see millions of people being asked to stay at home if a second wave of coronavirus infections occurs.
One option would have people between the ages of 50 and 70 get personalized risk scores as part of a significant expansion of the protection program.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said wastewater testing would give officials a ‘head start’ in tackling new epidemics
The plan sparked a storm of protests last night, with critics saying it failed to recognize the important contribution of the over-50s to the economy and risked stigmatizing older people in the workplace.
Former government adviser Joan Bakewell said ministers must first tackle the problem of young people failing to distance themselves socially.
Lord Foulkes, a Labor peer, said: “It is both old and ill-considered. Some children under 50 have underlying health conditions, while some over 50 are critical to our economy. Dame Esther Rantzen said that people of the same age cannot be grouped together as the same.
But the 80-year-old has said she would be prepared to stay home to avoid another lockdown for all age groups.
According to the National Statistics Office, only 4,895 people aged 45 to 64 have died and 7,549 aged 65 to 74, against 16,586 in the 75 to 84 age group and 21,766 older than that. 85 years old.
Last night Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick tried to defuse the argument by insisting that talk of expanding the protection program was “just speculation.”
He added: “You would expect the government to look at the full range of options that might be available. “