Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the move today, in what could be considered a U-turn on previous policy which said contact tracing was not useful after the ‘containment’ phase of the response had passed.
He said: “From tomorrow, any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment on gov.uk themselves, directly.
“This all applies for people in essential workers’ households too who need a test.
“It’s all part of getting Britain back on her feet.”
Testing will be available in NHS hospitals, in regional test centres, and at satellite centres. Home test kits and mobile testing units would also be introduced.
Mr Hancock said testing was also being used to establish how many people have and have had coronavirus.
“These are critical pieces of information to inform our battle against this novel virus,” he said.
Initially, 25,000 people would take part, with plans to expand it to 300,000 over the next 12 months.
Participants will provide regular samples taken from self-administered swabs and answer a few short questions.
He said letters had started to go out and appealed to anyone asked to become involved to do so.
“The early signs from today are that there is huge enthusiasm from those who have received letters taking part in this survey,” he said.
Mr Hancock said infrastructure was being put in place so that contact tracing could be rolled out on a large scale.
“As we look ahead, this is critical to keep the virus under control,” he said.
Mr Hancock said a new NHS contact-tracing app was undergoing testing.
Anyone who became unwell with coronavirus symptoms would be able to inform the NHS through the app, which would then inform other users they had had significant contact with.
Professor John Newton, official coordinator for Covid-19 testing, said the Government is “on track” to reach 100,000 tests a day.
He said: “We have also introduced new tests, new types of test, so for example at least two NHS labs are now using a test that has no RNA extraction stage, which means no need for the chemical reagents which are in such high demand around the world.”
He added: “In addition, we have the three new lighthouse labs which are all now on stream – these are the ones in Milton Keynes, in Manchester and in Glasgow.
“Each of these labs will be able to process tens of thousands of tests per day and we’re introducing automation into those processes which really ramps up the capacity.
“We are currently on track to reach 100,000 tests a day. In fact, we’re somewhat ahead of where we thought we’d be at this stage.”
He added: “We’re going to have 48 of these pop-up facilities which can travel around the country to where they’re needed most – for example, in care homes.”
However Labour has criticised the Government for seemingly changing the goalposts on testing.
Mr Hancock, on April 2, pledged that 100,000 tests a day would be conducted by the end of April, however today he said capacity for carrying out tests was now “ahead of our plans”, with the ability to carry out more than 50,000 tests a day.
“Because capacity has now increased so substantially we are now able to expand who can get the tests,” he said.
“Our ultimate goal is that everyone who could benefit from a test gets a test.”
Earlier Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis came under fire for saying, on Good Morning Britain: "This was a new virus and there were no tests, we quickly got to 2,000, that's not enough and that's why Matt Hancock is determined we will get to that 100,000 capacity by the end of the month."
Host Piers Morgan told him: “Hang on Mr Lewis, you said 'capacity', no one pledged 'capacity'.
"The Health Secretary was crystal clear from April 2nd that we would be doing 100,000 tests a day.
"He didn't mention the word 'capacity'."
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Yesterday we urged the government to do more testing and we have consistently questioned why ministers were not moving to a test and trace strategy. It is welcome ministers now recognise the importance of testing and tracing.
“It is crucial that greater numbers of critical workers such as care staff are now able to access testing.
“We will continue to hold the government to account for the promise it has made of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.”
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