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Over-65s and those who need to leave their homes for work will now be able to get tested for coronavirus, as the government expands the number of people who are eligible.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the move as he strives to meet the government’s target of reaching 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day by Friday.

From Wednesday, all those aged over 65 and those who have to leave their homes in order to do their jobs, who have coronavirus symptoms, will be able to get a COVID-19 test.

Those in the same households of over-65s and non-home workers will also now be eligible for tests, if they show symptoms.

Construction workers on a residential building in Canary Wharf, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Construction workers will now be among those eligible for coronavirus tests

“From construction workers to emergency plumbers, from research scientists to those in manufacturing, the expansion of access to testing will protect the most vulnerable and help keep people safe,” Mr Hancock said at Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefing.

Mr Hancock also announced the expansion of coronavirus testing to all those working on the frontline in the NHS and social care, as well as NHS hospital patients and care home residents, whether or not they have symptoms.

Previously, aside from some pilot schemes, only those with COVID-19 symptoms in these groups were being tested.

The health secretary said he was “determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable”.

Professor John Newton, the coordinator of the national testing programme, described how “intensive studies” of infection in care homes showed “the presence of symptoms was not really a good marker… both among residents and staff, for the presence of the virus”.

“There were significant numbers who were asymptomatic who had the virus and so we have massively increased the amount of testing available,” he said.

Prof Newton added 25,000 residents in care homes had so far been tested.

The health secretary said the government was “on track” to meet its target of 100,000 tests per day by the end of this month, despite less than half that figure – 43,453 tests – being conducted on Monday.

Mr Hancock said there was now capacity for 73,400 COVID-19 tests per day.

Outlining how the government hopes to fulfil this capacity, the health secretary said a further 48 drive-in testing centres would be in place this week, adding to the 41 centres currently in place.

The number of home testing kits – which can be booked via the gov.uk website – will also be expanded from 5,000 per day to 25,000 per day by the end of the week.

And there are plans for the army to run 70 mobile testing centres by the end of the week, up from the 17 currently travelling around the country.

Mr Hancock also announced, in an effort to “bring as much transparency as possible” to the UK death figures, that from Wednesday the government will be publishing not only the number of deaths in hospitals each day, but the number of deaths in care homes and in the community too.

He said 21,678 have died in hospital with coronavirus, an increase of 586 since Monday’s figures.

Earlier, the Care Quality Commission revealed there were 4,343 coronavirus-related deaths reported by care home providers in England in the fortnight to 24 April.

Labour’s shadow minister for social care, Liz Kendall, welcomed the government’s action on testing and intent to publish more comprehensive death figures.

She said: “What’s measured is what counts, and for families and care workers struggling to cope with this awful virus, every death counts.”

But Ms Kendall added: “More needs to be done to ensure all care staff get the personal protective equipment they need and to ensure social care is properly funded to deal with the extra costs of the pandemic.

“The government must also introduce a strategy for intermediate care, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by people who are discharged from hospital and help struggling care homes.”

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