Rapid Covid tests that deliver results in 15 minutes could be available for as little as £5 and rolled out before Christmas, a report said last night.
Those who test negative could be allowed to head back to the football stadium, pub or theatre, a government source told The Sun.
The pregnancy-style tests are being trialled on thousands and are considered a vital tool in reviving the economy amid the coronavirus second wave.
The Government, which has set a target of half-a-million tests a day by the end of October, is under growing pressure to ‘get Britain back to normal,’ as revealed by focus groups who increasingly regard the lockdown measures with disdain.
A nurse swabbing the throat of a traveller as he adminsters a Covid-19 test in Heathrow Airport in west London this week
However, the virus shows no signs of abating with another 20,530 cases and 224 deaths on Friday. Positive tests are up 31 per cent on last Friday, when there were 15,650, and deaths have surged by 65 per cent in seven days.
The rapid saliva tests have been used on students at De Montford and Durham universities as well as on children at three schools in the south of England.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for a meeting of cabinet ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London, England today
A government source told The Sun: ‘They are pretty exciting. Rapid-turnaround, relatively inexpensive tests are the future. We have something that’s 15 minutes which is pretty close to being ready.
‘These are not complicated. They are tests you can do at a university, school or workplace with no specialist training or equipment.
‘I’d be very surprised if we were not in good shape by Christmas for these tests.’
Scientists believe that they can hit their target of trialling the tests on 10,000 people within weeks.
If all continues running smoothly, millions of the saliva tests will be able to roll out before Christmas and bring desperately-needed reassurance to schools and offices.
Unlike other tests which involve an uncomfortable probe into the nose, users can simply swab the inside of their mouths and mix the sample in a solution.
Similar to a pregnancy test, a line quickly appears on a testing stick to show whether a person is Covid positive or negative.
The sticks have been handed out to youngsters to ensure their ease of use.
The government source told The Sun: ‘The rapid-turnaround test will add a whole other dimension to our testing capabilities.’
Supermarket staff in Wales on Friday covered up kettles and phone chargers on shelves as ‘power mad’ First Minister Mark Drakeford banned the sale of ‘non-essential’ items during the country’s coronavirus firebreak lockdown
Revellers in Sheffield are out on the town for one last night on Friday before their city is placed under the strictest lockdown measures, tier three
Ministers have spent more than £500 million in the last two weeks on laboratory-based machines that could more than triple a capacity of 300,000 tests a day.
‘We are now testing more people than any other country in Europe but we always want to go further,’ Boris Johnson said on Friday.
Normal Christmas is ‘wishful thinking’, says SAGE adviser
The idea that ‘we can carry on as we are’ and have a normal Christmas ‘is wishful thinking in the extreme’, a Government scientific adviser has said.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said ‘radical action’ would be needed to stem the rise in coronavirus cases, particularly in regions with high incidence of the virus.
Prof Edmunds, who told MPs on Wednesday that tens of thousands of deaths could occur during this wave of the pandemic, said further measures are needed to bring cases down.
He told the PA news agency that a circuit-breaker is needed across the whole country or at least in areas where incidence is high.
‘The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts,’ he said.
‘The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.’
‘Scientists and companies in Britain and around the world have been developing new tests which are faster, simpler and cheaper.
‘We’ve already bought millions of these tests, some of which are very simple, meaning you simply need to wipe the swab inside your mouth and can give a result as quickly as in 15 minutes.’
It comes as Greater Manchester moved into the highest alert level, Tier 3, this morning, and Wales is introducing its two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm.
Coventry, Stoke and Slough will enter Tier 2 tomorrow, while talks between Westminster and civic leaders in Nottingham over possible Tier 3 restrictions were continuing on Friday.
Wales is under a 17-day ‘fire break’ lockdown, the Northern Irish have been advised against non-essential travel and the Scots are staring down the barrel of a new five-level system of Covid-19 restrictions.
Meanwhile the Government was plunged into a Christmas row yesterday after Downing Street insisted families should be able to gather – but a minister warned it will not be ‘normal’.
The mixed messages came as politicians desperately try to get a grip on a surge in coronavirus cases – with lockdowns tightening in many areas.
There are tough restrictions on people meeting indoors across much of the UK, but asked whether families should abandon hope of meeting up, a No10 spokesman said: ‘The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.
‘As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.’
The comments contrasted with the stance taken by Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay in a round of interviews this morning.
He said: ‘I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time.
‘And the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been very clear on that.
‘But, your point really was about the ability of families to spend Christmas together – that is something we all hope to be in a position to do.’
Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the only way to save the festive season was to impose a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown now – something Labour has been demanding.
She told BBC Breakfast: ‘The tier system so far has not worked to reduce infections.
‘What we are looking at unfortunately – given the Government doesn’t seem to be willing to shift on this when half-term holidays are coming up – what we are looking up to Christmas is an increasingly difficult situation in lots of parts of the country.
A third of English councils saw a FALL in coronavirus cases last week
Almost a third of England’s councils saw a drop in coronavirus infections last week amid calls for a second circuit-breaker lockdown and tightening restrictions across the country.
As many as 41 out of 149 councils recorded a fall in their Covid-19 infection rates in the week ending October 11, according to Public Health England’s weekly surveillance report. For comparison, only two saw a dip last week.
And only eight registered a surge in cases of more than 50 per cent – more than 13 times less than the week before when 109 local authorities saw major spikes, suggesting the second wave may be slowing down.
The biggest dip was recorded in the city of Manchester – which the Government is threatening with a tier three lockdown – with a 22 per cent fall in infections from 557.8 to 433.8 cases per 100,000 people.
Southend-on-sea saw the second largest fall, with a 20.5 per cent dip from 42.6 to 33.9 cases per 100,000 people. Slough, outside London, came third with a 19 per cent drop in infections from 86.9 to 70.2 per 100,000.
But many areas still recorded rises in infections – although none saw rates double compared to the 52 areas that recorded this surge last week.