Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services
I want to inform Members of our plans to expand activity under the Test to Find strand of our Testing Strategy as we start to ease out of lockdown.
We know that up to a third of individuals who test positive for coronavirus have no symptoms at all and can therefore spread it unknowingly. Our Testing Strategy recognises under its Test to Find approach that identifying and isolating COVID-19 cases in the community quickly reduces the transmission of infection, supports contact tracing, protects vulnerable individuals and helps to slow or stop the spread of the disease.
The evaluation of the asymptomatic testing pilot in Merthyr and Lower Cynon in November and December, published 22 March, found the intervention was very cost effective and had an immediate, positive impact on the level of COVID-19 circulating in those communities. The findings note asymptomatic testing likely contributed to the subsequent decline in COVID-19 case rates which occurred, following the pilot and the introduction of the national lockdown on 20th December 2020. An estimated 353 cases of COVID-19, 24 hospitalisations, 5 Intensive Care Unit admissions and 14 deaths, that would have otherwise occurred, were prevented.
Community testing has been underway in parts of Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and RCT since the beginning of March. Learning from the pilot, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and its partners in Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and RCT County Borough Councils have targeted communities with stubbornly high prevalence of COVID-19. Partners are also offering regular tests to people who are unable to work from home, particularly those involved in close contact services such as taxi drivers, hairdressers and retail workers.
I am today announcing, building on lessons learned and to support our plans to re-open the economy, an extended timeline for the community testing programme until the end of September. This will support outbreak management and target areas that see a rapid increase in cases and continue to have stubbornly high rates of infections. We will continue to work with our local and regional partners to develop plans for community asymptomatic testing sites and collect hubs. As well as extending community testing at test sites, we will use new distribution channels to enable people who are not able to access workplace testing and cannot work from home to have access to self-tests for home use.
We aim to make regular asymptomatic testing as convenient and accessible as possible for people who cannot work from home and their households by developing a number of different channels including collect and delivery models. These will come available during the next few weeks.
This expansion of Test to Find will allow partners across Wales greater flexibility to decide when and where to deploy asymptomatic testing to respond to any increases in incidence that may occur and to help keep people safe as we gradually ease restrictions.