The government is set to offer businesses free home test kits for employees, in a bid to get staff back to the workplace after almost a year of home working.
In a major expansion of the government’s workplace testing scheme, all businesses with more than 10 employees who cannot offer on-site testing will be eligible for free lateral flow tests from 6 April.
Staff will have to pick up the self-test kits from their employer to be completed at home. They will then be asked to report their test results to the NHS online.
The health secretary said the tests would form a “vital part of our roadmap, helping us to cautiously lift restrictions on our economy and society”.
“Around one in three people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms, so extending employee testing from the workplace to the home will help us identify more cases we otherwise wouldn’t find, prevent further transmission and save lives,” he added.
Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director of the CBI, said: “Mass, rapid workplace testing is an essential pillar of the roadmap for reopening, alongside the vaccine rollout. Having the option for staff to test at home will enable more firms to embrace workplace testing, as not all employers will have the space or facilities to run testing programmes on their premises.
Almost 60,000 businesses have already signed up to the government’s workplace testing programme, which will provide free rapid tests to key workers.
Businesses have until 12 April to register for the programme, and can apply even if they are not currently open or are not able to start using the tests straight away.
Rapid Covid tests can provide results within 30 minutes. Despite previous concerns over their efficacy, NHS Test and Trace analysis published earlier this month suggested the tests have a specificity of at least 99.9 per cent.
Industry leaders have started to plot paving the way for the return of staff to the office, with current “stay at home” orders due to expire on Monday under the Prime Minister’s roadmap for leaving lockdown.
Data released on Thursday suggested that more than half of all households could now be travelling to work again.
According to challenger energy brand Bulb, about 54 per cent of households are now commuting into work, up 13 per cent from the beginning of January.
Several large firms including John Lewis have already launched in-store testing to ensure staff are fit for work.
In December, the company launched rapid Covid tests at 40 partnership locations in England, including Waitrose and John Lewis supply chain sites, customer fulfilment centres, textiles factories and selected shops.
Other businesses have taken a tougher stance on ensuring staff are fit to return to work once restrictions are eased.
Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins told City A.M. earlier this year he was drawing up plans to introduce mandatory vaccine requirements for staff as he became the first business leader to announce a so-called “no jab, no job” policy.