The U.K. is increasing its testing eligibility to include anyone 5 years old and over with coronavirus symptoms, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Monday.
The expansion comes as the U.K. prepares to roll out a test and trace system, with over 21,000 contact tracers having been recruited in England.
Up to now, the only people who could apply for a test were symptomatic essential workers; those aged 65 or over; those who can’t work from home; and people who live with these groups. In addition, National Health Service and social care staff, as well as patients and residents, have been eligible for testing without symptoms.
Despite expanding eligibility to almost the entire population, access to tests will continue to prioritized for NHS and social care patients, residents and staff, said Hancock, while addressing the House of Commons.
The newly recruited contract tracers include 7,500 health care professionals to provide the call handlers with “expert clinical advice,” he said.
“They will help manually trace the contacts of anyone who has a positive test and advise them on whether they need to isolate,” said Hancock, adding they have had “rigorous training” designed by Public Health England.
Some public health experts have previously raised fears over the difficulty of accurately contact tracing.
In related news earlier Monday, the country expanded its official symptom list to include the loss of the sense of smell. This would lead to an additional two percent of cases being picked up, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam said.