PMQs: Coronavirus testing to expand for “high contact professions”
Speaking during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson has said that individuals who work in jobs which require close contact with the public will have access to expanded and targeted testing.
The prime minister says that such workers will be able to be tested even if they do not display coronavirus symptoms, adding that it will help reduce the risks to black and ethnic minority workers occupying key roles in the healthcare and transport sectors.
According to Johnson, an agreement has already been reached to bring in the new testing plan with the chief of NHS England’s test, track and trace system, Dido Harding.
He said: "What we are doing first and most directly is to ensure that those high-contact professions get expanded and targeted testing now."
Johnson announced the move after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer highlighted Public Health England’s recent report that Covid-19 brings a higher risk of death to ethnic minority groups.
Sir Keir said: "That report concluded that death rates are highest among black and Asian ethnic groups and it went on to say that it is already clear that relevant guidance and key policies should be adapted to mitigate the risk.
"If it is already clear that guidance and policy need to be changed, why has the government not already acted?"
Johnson told MPs that the government was “already acting” to address the issue, saying: "We are looking at the particular exposure of black and minority ethnic groups to coronavirus and be in no doubt they have been at the forefront of the struggle against coronavirus whether it is in the NHS or public transport.”
Johnson also confirmed that the government was considering extending eligibility for the furlough scheme for workers who have recently begun to self-isolate for health reasons.
He said: "Clearly newly-shielded people may be asking themselves whether they are entitled to furlough funds. I've been made aware of the issue very recently and I can assure that we will be addressing it forthwith."
The PM also used Wednesday’s session to announce an additional £63 million fund for local welfare assistance to help vulnerable families. The move comes after Sir Keir had urged the government to extend free school meal provision into the summer holidays.
Johnson told the Commons: "We are announcing a further £63 million of local welfare assistance to be used by local authorities at their discretion to help the most vulnerable families.
"This government has put its arms around the people of this country throughout this crisis and has done its absolute best to help."