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Liverpool will this week become the first city in England to roll out mass testing of its population for covid-19.

All people living or working in Liverpool will be offered covid-19 tests from Friday 6 November, regardless of whether they have symptoms, under a government pilot scheme that will screen as many as half a million people in the city.

The pilot will test the feasibility of the government’s ambitious plans for mass population screening throughout England, as The BMJ first revealed in the leaked Operation Moonshot documents in September.1 The army will provide logistical support, with 2000 personnel deployed from Thursday 5 November.

Several types of covid tests will be used in the pilot (see box), including existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests, new lateral flow swab tests that can turn around results without the need to be processed in a laboratory, and new LAMP technology that will be deployed in Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for NHS staff.

Liverpool has one of the highest rates of covid-19 in England (410.4 per 100 000 for 18-25 October) and was the first area of England to be placed under very high alert last month,2 before the government’s announcement of a new national lockdown3 starting on 5 November.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said that the pilot scheme, which has been backed by local leaders, would help to identify many asymptomatic people who could still infect others without knowing.

“Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas and empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas,” he said. “It is early days, but this kind of mass testing has the potential to be a powerful new weapon in our fight against covid-19.”

 

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