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Thousands more firms to get cash for Covid tests at work


Tens of thousands more firms will be offered Government funds to pay for rapid Covid tests for staff after Matt Hancock and major employers backed The Mail on Sunday’s campaign.

The Health Secretary today announces that he is expanding the Government’s workplace coronavirus testing pilot scheme to all companies with more than 50 staff. Until now, only English firms with 250 or more staff qualified for the scheme, meaning just 5,000 firms were eligible for state support.

The huge expansion opens up the scheme to a further 31,000 medium-sized companies across England.

Retailers John Lewis (including Waitrose), Dixons Carphone and Boohoo, energy giant EDF and steelmaker Tata have backed our crusade to get more firm testing their employees regularly

Writing for The Mail on Sunday, Hancock calls on companies to take up the offer, with NHS Test and Trace set to release marketing materials to local authorities and firms to support the initiative.

It is a major step forward for The Mail on Sunday’s Tests at Work campaign, which was launched last week to help reboot Britain’s economy by getting millions of workers safely back to factories, plants, shops and offices.

We revealed that early results from a Government pilot scheme showed major companies had prevented thousands of sick days and avoided entire factory closures by using regular rapid tests that deliver results in as little as 15 minutes.

Retailers John Lewis, Dixons Carphone and Boohoo, energy giant EDF and steelmaker Tata have thrown their weight behind our crusade to get more companies testing their employees regularly.

The firms said workplace testing was a vital tool in reopening the economy safely while the Government focuses on getting Covid-19 vaccines to the entire population.

Our Tests at Work campaign is also calling on the Government to extend its hugely successful pilot scheme beyond the current March 31 cut-off date and expand it from England to all of the UK.

Thousands of sick days and shutdowns averted 

The pilot scheme, launched late last year, offers financial support and advice for companies in England to help them implement workplace testing for employees without Covid symptoms. Employers have been providing workers without Covid symptoms regular so-called ‘lateral flow’ tests that produce a result in 15 minutes to an hour.

Staff are asked to wait for the results in isolated areas before being allowed into the workplace if they test negative.

Businesses in the pilot have also allowed staff who have been in contact with a Covid sufferer to keep going into work as long as they test negative for seven days running.

This so-called ‘daily contact testing’ programme helped John Lewis and Tata save 8,000 potential sick days between them. It also avoided five potential factory shut-downs. Our campaign to roll out rapid workplace testing has won widespread praise over the past seven days as Ministers and businesses plot a route out of lockdown.

Online fashion retailer Boohoo said it had avoided at least 750 sick days since the Army trained staff at its distribution centre in Burnley, Lancashire, to test its 500 employees in October

Online fashion retailer Boohoo said it had avoided at least 750 sick days since the Army trained staff at its distribution centre in Burnley, Lancashire, to test its 500 employees in October

Two of Britain’s best-known entrepreneurs – former Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne and Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins – have given us their full backing. And industry bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium and the Food and Drink Federation – which together represent hundreds of thousands of firms and millions of staff – are on board.

Other supporters joining our call for widespread workplace testing include the FTSE 100-listed packaging giant Smurfit Kappa, Abel & Cole owner William Jackson Food Group and telecoms specialist Odyssey Systems. 

Online fashion retailer Boohoo – which last month bought the Debenhams brand and is in talks to snap up Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton – said it had avoided at least 750 sick days since the Army trained staff at its distribution centre in Burnley, Lancashire, to test its 500 employees in October.

David James, supply chain director at Boohoo, said: ‘We would encourage other employers to get behind this important campaign and start offering people tests in the workplace.

‘For larger employers, it is a big logistical exercise but it will help to protect colleagues, their families and the wider community.’ Energy provider EDF is carrying out 1,000 tests a week at its construction site for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset.

It boosts the safety of workers and the public 

EDF has developed its own track and trace system with local health authorities, and has invested in two mobile laboratories capable of processing 700 tests a day. David Brown, principal medical officer at EDF, said: ‘Implementing workplace testing helps us to safely continue our critical role of supplying power to customers at home, in businesses and in the NHS.’

Dixons Carphone said it was rolling out rapid lateral flow testing at its sites in high-risk areas. It began at distribution centres in Kent and Nottinghamshire, and will extend the scheme to sites in Liverpool, Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, and Stevenage, in Hertfordshire. 

Lindsay Haselhurst, chief supply chain officer at Dixons Carphone, which owns Currys PC World, said: ‘It’s early days but workplace testing can play a critical role in our fight against this virus. It gives us the means, for the first time, to identify asymptomatic colleagues before they pass it on unknowingly.’

Dixons Carphone said it was rolling out rapid lateral flow testing at its sites in high-risk areas

Dixons Carphone said it was rolling out rapid lateral flow testing at its sites in high-risk areas

Nicholas Oughtred, chairman of William Jackson Food Group, which owns the vegetable box delivery firm Abel & Cole as well as the restaurant supplier Wellocks, said: ‘We support The Mail on Sunday in encouraging more businesses to proactively test their colleagues.

‘We’ve been carrying out weekly testing since October and know first-hand how effective it is at helping people feel safer about coming to work. We’ve carried out about 5,000 tests and identified about 100 people who unknowingly had the virus.’

Charlie Mullins, the founder and chairman of Pimlico Plumbers, said: ‘Covid testing is a complete no-brainer and something all responsible companies should be doing while the Government gets on with the critical business of vaccinating the entire UK population.

‘The Mail on Sunday’s campaign hits the nail on the head and is simple common sense.

‘Testing offers peace of mind, reduction in business downtime and ultimately boosts the safety of workers and the public.’

Duncan Bannatyne, chairman of the Bannatyne Group, vowed to use testing for members of his chain of health clubs when they reopen.

He said: ‘Well done to The Mail on Sunday for this important campaign. Workplace rapid testing can play a significant role in reopening businesses and the economy. If the Government provides the tests, I will test all my staff, and members, when they enter the health clubs.’

He added: ‘The fitness sector has a major role to play in the physical and mental health of the country and it’s important we are allowed to open sooner rather than later. Testing will add to the already robust procedures the industry has in place to ensure everyone’s safety.’

The ‘daily contact testing’ programme helped John Lewis and Tata save 8,000 potential sick days between them

The ‘daily contact testing’ programme helped John Lewis and Tata save 8,000 potential sick days between them

British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson said: ‘The BRC is supporting retailers who are implementing workplace testing, and the Government should play its part to support and finance the long-term, widespread roll-out of such schemes, particularly by extending their own pilot support scheme beyond March 31.’

Andrew Murphy, executive director for operations at the John Lewis Partnership, said: ‘We’re pleased to support The Mail on Sunday’s Tests at Work campaign, which will get the economy moving while helping to keep workers safe.’

Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright said: ‘Food and drink workers are hidden heroes of the Covid crisis. They have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the nation fed. Their safety is of utmost importance.’

A survey of 1,150 managers by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that 89 per cent of them agreed with The Mail on Sunday that Government testing support needs to cover all of the UK.

Some 83 per cent of managers said that the Government should extend the March 31 deadline, and 88 per cent said that more firms should launch rapid Covid testing in the workplace.

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