During this lockdown, we are supposed to work from home if it is at all possible. However, millions of people are in jobs where this simply isn’t an option. Key workers, shop assistants, construction workers, delivery drivers, fulfilment operatives, refuse collectors, bus and taxi drivers – these are just some of the people who need to go out to work. While most workplaces have made huge efforts to become ‘COVID-secure’, it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of coronavirus transmission. For this reason, the government has announced plans to expand free workplace COVID testing.

The government’s rapid workplace COVID testing programme is not new. Until now, organisations with more than 250 employees have been able to sign up for it. According to a Department of Health and Social Care press release, 112 UK organisations across nearly 500 sites currently offer rapid testing. Now, many more employers are likely to join the scheme – it is now open to organisations with 50 or more employees.

What is the rapid workplace COVID testing programme?

About 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 have no symptoms of the disease. This means they are very likely to spread the virus unknowingly. If an asymptomatic person is in the workplace, they can easily pass on the coronavirus to a significant number of people.

For this reason, it makes sense to test employees regularly and screen out anyone who is infected. The rapid workplace COVID testing programme aims to do this.

What kind of tests does the programme use?

The most accurate tests for COVID-19 are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. While seen as the ‘gold standard’ for testing, PCR tests take time. Each one needs to be processed in a laboratory. This makes them unsuitable for regularly testing a workforce.

The newly expanded workplace COVID testing programme instead relies on ‘lateral flow tests’. These tests are cheaper, don’t need to be sent to a lab, and provide rapid results.

While lateral flow tests are not as accurate as PCR tests, they are often able to detect positive cases when a person’s viral load is high and they are at their most infectious. An extensive clinical evaluation shows that lateral flow tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community.

Because lateral flow tests can identify workers who are infectious, they can play an important role in protecting your workforce.

Is my business eligible for the workplace COVID testing programme?

If you have 50 or more employees, then you should be eligible for the programme. Note that it is currently only open to businesses registered in England.

How much does the programme cost?

The COVID testing programme is currently free for all participating organisations in both the public and private sectors. It will remain so until at least 31st March 2021. After then, the government’s support will be kept under review.

How do I sign up?

The government has launched an online portal for businesses to sign up to the scheme. To register, you’ll need to provide your company name, your company registration number and an email address. The online portal is available here.

If my employees have COVID symptoms, can they use these tests? 

No. You should only use these tests to screen out asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus. If any of your employees have COVID-19 symptoms, then they must stay at home and order an individual test.

Is it worth joining the workplace COVID testing programme?

Yes. Because regular testing helps you identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus, it helps you to prevent the spread of infection. This not only helps to make your employees safer, but it can also help prevent large numbers of your workforce having to self-isolate. 

Avatar for Samantha Rowe
About Samantha Rowe

Sam’s title is Operations Manager, but the title itself doesn’t truly convey the variety of what she does for THP.  From administrative tasks to payroll, strategic business planning, and office systems and procedures, Sam’s primary skill lies in multitasking.

Sam’s journey began as an office junior with George Nottage (now merged with THP), and she soon learned skills in payroll and bookkeeping, and then gained experience as a PA to the Directors, and as Administration Manager.

At the moment, Auto Enrolment is an area that has a key focus for Sam, and for THP as a whole.  “The question I’m asked the most by clients just now is, ‘How will auto enrolment affect me?’ And the answer is, no matter how big or small you are, you will absolutely be affected by the Auto Enrolment regulations. I’d encourage you to start thinking about it now, and to look at your payroll software to make sure you’re ready.”

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