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Coronavirus: UK announces £500 million funding for COVID-19 population testing trials

Staff work at a the COVID-19 testing facility at Ikea near the Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, April 29, 2020.
Staff work at a the COVID-19 testing facility at Ikea near the Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, April 29, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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The UK government will invest £500 million (€563.7 million) to trial new rapid tests and expand population testing to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The government will run a widespread population testing trial in Salford, Greater Manchester and expand trials in Southampton and Hampshire. The initiative in Salford will aim to process 250 tests per day.

The Salford trial will focus on a "high footfall location in the city" and the government hopes the weekly testing will help to find asymptomatic cases earlier.

In Southhampton, more than 2,100 students and staff in four schools will be asked to participate in phase two of population testing trials. The first phase of the trial included 10,000 essential workers who were sent home testing kits.

"The pilot showed the at-home saliva sampling kit to be a reliable means of testing for large-scale, regular testing," the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.

"It's my intention to deploy as much testing as possible using the new testing innovations that are coming on stream and to deploy it as widely as possible following clinical advice," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons earlier in the week.

It came after Jeremy Hunt, chair of the Commons' Health and Social Care Committee, had asked if the government would unroll mass population testing, stating that health professionals and teachers who are often in contact with the public should be tested regularly.

The UK government's investment will also include piloting a rapid 20-minute test in Hampshire.

"New testing technologies and methods are vital to keep the system evolving and improving, especially as we assess how routine testing could help pick up cases of the virus earlier," said the National Institute for Health Protection's Interim Executive Chair Baroness Dido Harding.

"We will continue to scale up our testing capacity by expanding our network of testing sites and investing in new technologies to reach even more people through NHS Test and Trace."

Many European countries have ramped up their testing and tracing programs in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and avoid a second lockdown.