Operation Moonshot: pilot of rapid Covid tests under way in NHS hospitals


A new trial of rapid, mass Covid testing has begun in hospitals and will soon be rolled out to schools, universities and care homes, Downing Street has announced, in the latest attempt to push ahead with the so-called Operation Moonshot.

The pilot scheme is under way with tests of asymptomatic NHS staff at hospitals in Manchester, Southampton and Basingstoke, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said, and in the coming weeks this will be extended to hospitals in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle.

The trial will then begin testing people in schools, universities and care homes in the worst-affected regions, the spokesman said without specifying which these were.

Two types of tests will be used. Hospitals will use lamp tests, an abbreviation for loop-mediated isothermal amplification, which is a swab and saliva method that delivers results in 60 to 90 minutes.

Schools, universities and care homes will use lateral flow tests, a swab test that does not need processing in a laboratory and gives a result in less than an hour, and often significantly less.

It is the latest incarnation of what Johnson announced in September as Operation Moonshot, a £100bn plan to deliver up to 10m tests a day, seen by ministers as the best way to bring back some sort of more normal life before an effective vaccine for coronavirus is fully available.

By showing that asymptomatic people do not have Covid, such huge-scale testing could allow workplaces to operate more normally or be used to bring crowds back to theatres and sports venues by testing them before they arrive.

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