HUNDREDS of thousands of workers will get a free Covid test before they clock on in a drive to identify hidden carriers.
Supermarket staff, food providers, train and bus drivers will get regular checks — even if showing no symptoms.
Rapid lateral flow tests will be offered to key workers across the country from this week as PM Boris Johnson vowed to halt the spread of “this vicious disease”.
About one in three people who catch coronavirus do not show any symptoms and could be unwittingly infecting others.
The PM last night announced that the lateral flow tests, which produce results in under 30 minutes, will be made available across the country.
Those testing positive will be asked to isolate, protecting those who cannot work from home and vital services.
It is part of a three-pronged assault on the virus along with the winter lockdown and vaccination programme.
Mr Johnson said: “Our plan is to vaccinate as many people as possible across the UK as quickly as we can.
“And with more than 1,000 vaccination sites across the country, including seven new mass vaccination centres, we will help protect hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in the coming weeks as we accelerate towards offering 12million people the jab in England by mid February.”
Targeted regular community testing has already identified over 14,800 positive cases which would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Ministers hope the latest expansion will build on the millions of critical workers, including NHS and care home teams, already being tested every week.
Staff at all 317 councils will be eligible for free kits to test critical workers and those who must leave home for essential reasons, such as social workers and housing officials.
Fifteen large employers, including organisations operating in food, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors, have already taken up the offer across 64 sites.
An estimated 27,000 tests have taken place already across the public sector, including at job centres, in transport networks and the military.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday: “Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases quickly, so I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up.”
Catering company Apetito, which supplies meals for schools, nurseries, businesses, hospitals and retirement homes, has signed up.
Company spokesman Lee Sheppard said: “Many of our vulnerable customers may be solely reliant upon us for their meal provision so ensuring we are able to operate is crucial.”
The plan was also welcomed by councils, 131 of which across the country had signed up for community testing by last night.
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Local knowledge and expertise has proved vital in combating coronavirus. We are pleased councils will receive supplies of rapid coronavirus testing kits.”
Meanwhile, up to 14,000 defence personnel in the Covid support force are ready to move when required. Brigadier Phil Prosser, who is leading the vaccine task force, has set up a war room.
And Maj Gen Tim Robinson, 53, involved in domestic operations such as the 2016 floods, said: “The involvement of the Armed Forces brings three important elements — the Army’s planning capability, boots on the ground but, most importantly its can-do attitude.”
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