Boris Johnson has said the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of new fast turnaround tests for coronavirus in a move not yet replicated by any other country in the world.
The prime minister told a No 10 news conference that some of the saliva tests could deliver results in just 15 minutes.
“We are now testing more people than any other country in Europe but we always want to go further,” he said.
“Scientists and companies in Britain and around the world have been developing new tests which are faster, simpler and cheaper.
“They have been working hard to discover and evaluate new testing technologies.
“Though there is work to do it is becoming clear over the past few weeks that some of these new tests are highly effective and can help us save lives and jobs over the winter.
“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.”
Johnson said work was being done to ensure that such tests could be both manufactured and distributed in the UK.
He added that increased capacity would allow more frequent testing to be done in high risk areas such as care homes over the winter.
“Some of these fast tests work with saliva and we’re already using these in hospitals,” he said.
“We’ve started building the infrastructure for domestic manufacture of these tests, ensuring that Britain has the ability to produce millions of fast tests here.
“Over the next few weeks we will start distributing and trialling these tests across the country.
“This will enable us to do quick turnaround tests on NHS staff and care home staff much more frequently.
“By testing more frequently and quickly than ever before we can help prevent the spread of the virus spreading through care homes.
“We will be able to test students in universities with outbreaks as well as children in schools, helping us to keep education open safely over the winter.”
Johnson said he had advised that areas of the UK at “very high” alert levels should be “immediately prioritised” for fast turnaround tests, but warned that a “cautious” approach should be taken to the new technology.
He added that it would “take time” before testing allowed for the economy to reopen properly and for businesses to return to normal.
He said: “No country in the world is regularly testing millions of people so we need to take the time to establish how to do this effectively and safely and to build the logistics and distribution operation.
“We won’t be able to get testing to get business back to normal quickly.
“In time we want to use tests to keep open more parts of the economy that have sadly been closed but it is crucial that we make sure such systems work safely,
“I must level with you that it will take time to get this right before many organisations can buy and operate these tests themselves.”