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Testing to begin in Portsmouth to help protect people most at risk, using rapid turnaround tests supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

The community testing initiative, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, is launching at the Guildhall in Portsmouth to help drive down transmission rates. The site will offer asymptomatic testing for critical workers who cannot work from home and who, during the course of their work, have regular contact with other people.

Around one in three people who are infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms so could be spreading the disease without knowing it.

Broadening testing to identify those showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly, and break chains of transmission. Using a targeted approach, community testing aims to reduce the prevalence of the virus in the highest risk areas.

Portsmouth City Council have received lateral flow tests, provided by NHS Test and Trace, as part of a new pilot to enable local public health leaders to start testing eligible critical workers not covered by other rapid community testing programmes. 

Testing will be available for asymptomatic individuals – critical workers who are not part of other asymptomatic testing – 7 days a week 8am-8pm from Monday 22 February. Booking will open on Friday 19 February. 

All efforts to find people who have coronavirus without symptoms work hand in hand with the existing free testing service for those with symptoms. Anyone with one or more of these symptoms – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste – should book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119. There are two symptomatic testing sites in Portsmouth which are open seven days a week at Eldon car park (University of Portsmouth), and at Northarbour Road.

Helen Atkinson Director of Public Health, Portsmouth City Council, said: “We’ve picked the Guildhall for testing asymptomatic testing for critical workers as it’s such a central location, has the space to allow for social distancing while testing takes place, offers links to public transport and there is plenty of nearby parking to help keep the process as swift as possible for those attending.

“I know it may seem like a big ask – to attend twice a week for testing when you feel fine – but it’s one of the most important contributions you can now make during this pandemic to help you and your family and your entire community get back to normal as soon as possible.

“This virus doesn’t always show symptoms, and we now know that one in three people get the virus with no ill effects. So you could unknowingly spread the virus to someone more at risk. I urge all eligible critical workers – those not part of other asymptomatic testing – to get tested regularly now we have the asymptomatic testing site in Portsmouth. If you are eligible you will soon be informed by your employer.

“Tests take about 10 minutes and there is no need to wait for results if attendees have a smart device. For anyone without access to a smart device when attending, we’ll be able to help you with registration when you arrive.”

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth City Council, said: “I’m very pleased that our joint bid to run community testing for our local critical workers was successful. This testing programme will undoubtedly save lives and protect countless people from spreading and catching the virus. This will also make a huge difference to the pressure on our local NHS.

“I cannot stress strongly enough the need for the critical workers to take this opportunity to get tested regularly. We also need employers to do everything they possibly can to encourage and enable their vital workforce to attend.

“I’d like to thank the team at the Guildhall who have enabled us to get this community testing facility up and running quickly and efficiently.”

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “We’ve already come so far since first setting up a national testing programme at an unprecedented pace to help counter COVID-19, but we continue to strive to go further, faster. 

“Around one in three people have the virus without symptoms so could be spreading the disease without knowing it. Broadening testing to identify those showing no symptoms will mean finding positive cases more quickly, and break chains of transmission. 

“I’m delighted that Portsmouth City Council are working with us roll out community testing in the city’s Guildhall and I look forward to seeing the results.”  

Baroness Dido Harding, Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “NHS Test and Trace continues to play a leading role in the fight against COVID-19. Increased community testing is a vital additional tool at our disposal to help identify those who are infected and infectious, but unaware that they might be spreading the disease. 

“The work of Portsmouth City Council will be essential in driving down transmission rates. I urge all those living in areas where community testing is offered to come forward and get tested.”