UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out the future for the nation the government is working towards, where daily coronavirus testing becomes a fact of life for millions and failing a test means being banned from social spaces and the workplace.
Tacked on to the end of his announcement on Wednesday on the introduction of new, harsher restrictions on personal freedoms as the number of new infections — if not deaths — starts to rise, the prime minister said the way tests are used would change in the “near future”.
At the moment, Boris Johnson said, testing is primarily used to actively identify those who are infected with coronavirus, but in the future that would change as tests became quicker to resolve. Instead, testing would be used to merely confirm that individuals were not infected.
In effect, this would mean that employees turning up at their employer in the morning would need to test negative for coronavirus on the spot before being allowed to do a day’s work. Similarly, sports stadiums and social venues would test patrons and reject their entry if they tested for the virus.
The prime minister said during a televised press conference:
…in future, in the near future… testing would allow people to lead more normal lives, without the need for social distancing:
Theatres and sports venues could test all audience members on the day and let in those with a negative result, all those who are not infectious. Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning and allow them to behave in a way that was normal before COVID.
Mr Johnson said a pilot of such a scheme would commence in the northern English town Salford — now the home of a significant proportion of the BBC — from next month.
Underlining the enormity of testing millions of people every day as they arrived to work, or as they went out after it, the prime minister called the invasive plan a “moonshot” and said it would require “a giant, collaborative effort from government, business, public health professionals, scientists, logistics experts and many, many more”.
These remarks followed others made in passing during Prime Minister’s Questions earlier in the day, a weekly round in Britain’s Parliament where the prime minister responds to concerns posed by members. He said then: “The world we want to move to as quickly as possible is when everyone can take an antigen test at the start of every day so we can live our lives as normally as possible.”
The prime minister’s plan to force tests on the nation in return for their livelihoods and social lives comes as the number of coronavirus cases rises — marginally. State broadcaster the BBC reports according to the latest figures around 1.5 per cent of coronavirus tests carried out record a positive result, compared to 0.5 per cent at the end of last month. While the figure has risen, it is still short of the 2.3 per cent seen in early June and hospital admissions are at a fraction of what they were months ago, and not rising.
This spike in diagnoses comes as the number of deaths due to coronavirus continues to hover at a very low level, however. While new cases rise, 80 people have died with coronavirus in the UK in the past week — compared to 6,700 in a single week in mid-April. This lower fatality rate may in part be explained by the fact new cases are rising fastest among those aged 20-29, who are among the least threatened by the health impacts of the virus.
The BBC report also notes that the number of tests conducted is rising, and the most tests are taking place in areas already known to be coronavirus hotspots — meaning the sudden rise in known cases may not represent such a sharp increase as feared.