A new £500 million funding package will support trials of a 20-minute Covid-19 test and efforts to explore the benefits of repeatedly testing people for the virus, the Health Secretary has announced.
Money will go towards launching a new community-wide repeat population testing trial in Salford, Greater Manchester.
Existing trials in Southampton and Hampshire, using a no-swab saliva test and a rapid 20-minute test, will also be expanded through the new funding.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Testing is a vital line of defence in combating this pandemic.
“Over the past six months we have built almost from scratch one of the biggest testing systems in the world.
“We need to use every new innovation at our disposal to expand the use of testing, and build the mass testing capability that can help suppress the virus and enable more of the things that make life worth living.
“We are backing innovative new tests that are fast, accurate and easier to use will maximise the impact and scale of testing, helping us to get back to a more normal way of life.”
It comes as postcode analysis by the BBC of the test booking service suggests some people with symptoms are being redirected to distant testing centres.
The broadcaster said this shows the Goverment is rationing coronavirus tests, while public health experts believe any rationing will lead to the start of new spikes being missed.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said saliva-based testing will be used for the pilot in Salford, which will involve the city council and other local partners.
A select number of residents will be invited for a weekly test, with the pilot performing up to 250 tests a day.
The initial focus will be on high footfall areas of Salford, such as retail areas, public services, transport and faith spaces.
Its aim is to identify positive coronavirus cases early, including for those with no or minor symptoms, so people can self-isolate.
Results will inform how regular repeat community testing could be scaled up across the country.
In Southampton, the second phase of a no-swab saliva test pilot is due to begin this week.
It will see a weekly testing model trialled with more than 2,100 pupils and staff across four schools.
The work is led by a partnership of the University of Southampton, Southampton City Council and the NHS.
Meanwhile in Hampshire the pilot of a rapid 20-minute coronavirus test will be expanded “to further explore the applications of mobile testing in different settings”, the DHSC said.
Funding will also be used to extend capacity for existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing currently being used in the UK.
Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chairwoman of the National Institute for Health Protection, the body replacing Public Health England, said: “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.
“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.”