RAPID-TURNAROUND Covid-19 tests will be issued in St Helens to increase the testing of priority and high-risk groups.

More than a half a million of these lateral flow tests will be sent out by NHS Test and Trace to public health leaders this week, signalling the next phase of the Government’s plan to expand asymptomatic testing.

This innovative new technology – which is already being rolled out as part of whole-city testing in Liverpool – can provide results within an hour without needing to be processed in a lab.

More than 50 directors of public health across England will each receive a batch of 10,000 antigen lateral flow devices as part of a pilot to test priority groups in the community.

The initial batch will be followed up with a weekly allocation of the tests, equivalent to 10 per cent of the population.

Directors of public health will decide how to prioritise the allocation of these new tests, based on the needs of their communities.

They will be supported by NHS Test and Trace to expand testing programmes in their area through access to training and clinical and operational guidance.

Health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said he had written to every director of public health in England on Monday, offering to make available the new lateral flow tests which have been used in the Liverpool mass testing pilot.

He said: "Last week we rolled out mass testing in Liverpool using new, rapid technology so we can detect this virus quicker than ever before, even in people who don’t have symptoms.

"Mass testing is a vital tool to help us control this virus and get life more normal.

"I am delighted to say 10,000 of these tests will now be sent out by NHS Test and Trace to more than 50 directors of public health as part of our asymptomatic testing strategy.

"I want to thank all directors of public health for their support and efforts over the past months to help us tackle this virus, bring it under control and get the country back to what we love doing."

The Department of Health said that proactively testing asymptomatic people will help identify those who unknowingly have the virus and enable those who test positive and their contacts to self-isolate.

This can help drive down the R rate locally.

The Department of Health add that this is crucial to break the chains of transmission of the virus and to support critical industries, key workers and institutions.

With lower rates of transmission, those at highest risk from the virus will be more protected and residents will feel more confident in getting back to their day-to-day lives

Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate along with their household immediately and their contacts will be traced.

Eligible individuals who test positive – and contacts who are required to self-isolate – will be entitled to the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment in the same way as a regular swab test ordered through NHS Test and Trace.

Those who test negative will need to continue to follow national guidance.