Now that the World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak of COVID-19 an official “pandemic”, the NHS has detailed plans to significantly expand its coronavirus testing capabilities, with enhanced labs helping the health service carry out 10,000 tests daily.
The announcement comes as - of 9AM on 10 March 2020 - 26,261 people have been tested in the UK, of which 25,888 were confirmed negative and 373 were confirmed as positive. Six patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.
The NHS, in partnership with Public health England (PHE), is scaling up tests by 500%, with expert NHS laboratory services across the country bringing new capacity online, and other labs to begin checks, enabling 8,000 more samples to be analysed every day of the week.
The news comes as PHE has developed a highly sensitive test to detect the virus, one of the first countries in the world to do so, which has been rapidly rolled out to their regional labs across the country.
The NHS has revealed that approximately 1,500 tests are being processed every day at PHE labs with the great majority of tests being turned around within 24 hours. PHE says that it has processed over 25,000 tests as of 10 March, and has not exceeded capacity during this time.
Wider testing is “important as it will help to manage demand as the number of people being tested increases in the coming weeks,” commented professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, PHE.
She continued, “This will ensure that PHE and the NHS have the most robust system possible to understand what is happening with the virus.
“PHE has continued to process the vast majority of test results within 24 hours of receiving the sample in a PHE laboratory and returning them to NHS colleagues and will continue to do so.”
As well as testing of people who meet the criteria for being at risk, the NHS and PHE are also carrying out surveillance testing on others, including people in wards and surgeries showing signs of the virus, learning lessons from abroad and helping the UK to gain a better picture, earlier of the spread of the virus.