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Johnson pushes tests for all to help reopen UK economy

A visitor talks to a worker at a coronavirus testing service near at London Heathrow Airport in London in February 2021.

CHRIS J. RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG

By TIM ROSS | Bloomberg | Published: April 5, 2021

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Everyone in England will be urged to take a coronavirus test twice a week as a new system of coronavirus passports is assessed for wide-scale use under Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to reopen the economy after lockdown.

Free test kits will be made available through local pharmacies, community centers and home delivery services, when the new regime goes live on Friday.

With most of the adult population now having received a vaccine, the government says rapid testing of the whole population and a system of coronavirus status certification will help keep control over the pandemic as restrictions are eased.

Johnson is due to set out the details Monday, before the next step in lifting curbs for businesses and citizens due on April 12.

"Massive efforts have been made by the British public to stop the spread of the virus," Johnson said in a statement released by his office. "As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine program and with our road-map to cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted."

The United Kingdom has suffered the highest death toll in Europe from the pandemic and is still reeling from the country's deepest recession in 300 years.

A vaccination program that has rapidly outpaced the rest of Europe has seen 31.5 million people given at least one shot so far, and it puts the United Kingdom in position to reopen even as nearby countries such as France are locking down again.

Under Johnson's plans:

— International travel may resume, potentially from as early as May 17, with a new "traffic light" system coding countries as red, amber or green, based on their pandemic risks. The risk ratings will take account of a country's vaccination program, infection rate, virus strains, and sequencing capacity

— Arrivals in the United Kingdom from green countries will not need to quarantine, but they will have to take tests before departing and after arriving. Quarantine and isolation rules will apply to passengers entering the country from places on the red and amber lists

— A coronavirus-status certification system — often referred to as a coronavirus passport - will be developed over the coming months, which could allow riskier venues such as sports events, nightclubs and theaters to reopen

— Coronavirus certificates, which could be on paper or a smartphone app, will be tested at mass events including top soccer matches and other sporting occasions in the weeks ahead; pubs, shops and restaurants will not need to use certification to reopen

— A review of social distancing will consider when family members will be allowed to hug each other again, and whether coronavirus passports could see distancing guidelines lifted.

Many of the measures contained in Johnson's plan will need to pass votes in Parliament. Johnson probably will face competing demands from some of his Conservative Party colleagues to lift the lockdown faster, while more than 70 members of Parliament have launched a campaign to oppose vaccine passports, citing concerns over the erosion of liberties.