Liverpool COVID test pilot offers omicron hope

A pilot programme which saw more than 600,000 people in Liverpool use lateral flow tests cut the need for COVID hospital treatment by 32% and saved 8,292 working days. Tony McDonough reports

A COVID-19 lateral flow test
COVID-19 lateral flow tests hold the key to the fight against omicron


A Liverpool city region pilot programme to test the effectiveness of using lateral flow tests (LFTs) to cut COVID transmission and disease has been hailed a major success.

In an outcome that could have major implications for limiting the spread of the omicron variant, it was revealed mass use of LFTs across the city region from December 2020 to July 2021 slashed the number of people needing hospital treatment for COVID by 32%.

More than 660,000 people across Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton too part in the Covid-Smart project, around 45% of the total population. Of 34 COVID cases, only three were missed by the LFTs and key workers saved 8,292 work days by taking the rapid tests instead of isolating.

This has had a big impact on Government strategy. Last week it was announced that double-vaccinated contacts of a person testing positive for COVID could avoid isolation if they took a daily LFT for seven days and continued to test negative.

READ MORE: Liverpool COVID tester to create 350 jobs

Professor Iain Buchan, dean of the Institute of Population Health, who led the evaluation, said: “This time last year, as the Alpha variant was surging, we found that Liverpool city region’s early rollout of community rapid testing was associated with a 32% fall in COVID-19 hospital admissions.

“We also found that daily lateral flow testing as an alternative to quarantine for people who had been in close contact with a known infected person enabled emergency services to keep key teams such as fire crews in work, underpinning public safety.”

On the implications for dealing with omicron, he added: “As the more infectious omicron variant sweeps through communities this winter, access to rapid testing will be important for keeping key emergency, social care and NHS services afloat with test-to-release or daily contact-testing schemes.

“To make testing useful, communities need to understand how to use a test and what the results mean. Timing is critical – you can become infectious very quickly, so taking a test the day before you mix with other people is not as useful as taking the test just before you meet up.

“And the more you encourage those you mix with to ‘test before you go’ the more risk you will take out – this kind of crowd-sourced health security is the new normal.”

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