Health Minister Robin Swann has announced a number of new initiatives to test people who do not have symptoms for Covid-19.

This expanded ‘asymptomatic testing programme’ will substantially increase testing for Covid-19 to the benefit of many sectors across Northern Ireland. The programme will use new tests currently available, for example Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs), and it will expand to use additional new testing technologies as they become available.

The Minister said: “Expansion of our asymptomatic testing programme will enable targeted testing for communities, businesses and emergency services across Northern Ireland. This expanded testing will run in parallel with the asymptomatic testing programmes already operating in our health and education sectors.  Expanding the programme in this way is a significant move and an important additional weapon in our fight against Covid-19.  As we move to the next phases in this pandemic, new testing technologies will play an essential role economically, educationally and socially within the overall package of measures available to drive down infection and keep rates of transmission low.”

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “Research has shown that around 1 in 3 people who have coronavirus do not display symptoms and may be unknowingly spreading the virus.  Regular testing of those who do not have symptoms will help us find hidden positive cases, we can then support these cases to self-isolate in an early and timely way, and thus we will continue to break chains of transmission.  Whilst the use and expected benefits of new testing technologies (such as LFD tests) are important, a negative result does not enable an individual to change their behaviour or drop their guard.  The important public health messages we all are familiar with continue to apply and people should not change their behaviours.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “My Department is now actively working with partners across government and its agencies, as well as with industry and our critical national infrastructure to identify organisations and groups to participate in this expanded testing programme.  Further and more detailed plans will be announced shortly.”

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland continues to be fully linked into the Mass Asymptomatic Testing programme led by the Department of Health and Social Care, London.