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UK fire services joins rapid COVID-19 testing programme


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The National Fire Chiefs Council have confirmed Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) staff across the country will take part in the rapid COVID-19 testing programme.

From February 1st, FRSs have received a stock of lateral flow test, provided by NHS Test and Trace, as part of a government scheme of employer-led testing.

Figures from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) show that since January 25th, more than 15,000 lateral flow tests have been carried out, which is around 30 per cent of the UK workforce.

FRS staff are also being encouraged locally to have the tests, to keep them and everyone around them safer. This helps to reinforce that the health, safety and well-being is a priority for the service.

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 preventing the spread of infection. Each positive result from a rapid test is one that would not have been found otherwise, helping break chains of transmission in our communities and workplaces and protecting those at highest risk. 

Use of multiple testing technologies is finding more positive cases, meaning people can isolate and prevent the spread of the disease. Rapid testing, using lateral flow tests, can return test results within 30 minutes. Rapid testing is providing people in environments such as hospitals, schools, universities and workplaces with reassurance that they are not infectious, or allow them to isolate more quickly if they are. 

Lateral flow tests used by the UK Government go through a rigorous evaluation by the country’s leading scientists. Tests detect cases with high levels of virus, making them effective in finding infectious individuals who aren’t showing any symptoms and are the most likely to transmit the disease.

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.

“Lateral flow tests hold the key to the next phase of our ambition to see rapid testing available to people across the country.

“I’m delighted that fire services across the country are working with us to use the latest technology, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labour, both in helping target the virus locally, and helping find ways to roll this technology out further.”

Baroness Dido Harding, Interim Executive Chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “The innovation and evolution of NHS Test and Trace continues to improve our detection of positive cases and I am incredibly proud of the speed at which we have been able to roll out these initiatives to protect more people more quickly. This is a national effort and a partnership of public and private sectors is instrumental in our response to this virus.

“Around one in three people with COVID-19 don’t display symptoms, meaning you can infect others unknowingly. This rapid testing programme with fire services is one of many that will inform our understanding of how rapid asymptomatic testing can be operationalised in the real world to protect those at high risk, find the virus and help us go back to as normal a way of life as possible.”

Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, Roy Wilsher, commented: “It is great news that Fire and Rescue Services are receiving the Lateral Flow Tests. This will not only help keep our staff safe, but allows important COVID-related work to continue. FRS staff are on the frontline – assisting those who need their help the most – showing it is in their DNA to be ready, willing and able to help. The health and safety of staff is of paramount importance and regular testing sends a very clear message to staff, your wellbeing is incredibly important, while helping you to do what you do best; be at the heart of the response.”

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