RAPID Covid tests should be available for residents once a week, council bosses have urged.

In a shock move, all of Essex's Labour council leaders have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, in a bid to tackle rising Covid cases in the county.

The leaders, which include Basildon's Gavin Callaghan, and Southend's Ian Gilbert, have demanded that lateral flow tests should be made available for everyone once a week.

Their letter also urges large, manufacturing businesses in Essex to report the number of staff tested each week and the number of positive cases as a result.


The letter, from Mr Callaghan, Mr Gilbert, Mark Ingall - the leader of Harlow Council, Tina Bourne - the Labour Leader of Colchester Council, and Ivan Henderson - the Labour leader at Essex County Council, reads: "Covid deaths in Essex hospitals have risen sharply from 44 in the week ending 20th December to over 150 in the week ending the 29th December.

"On December we were the first county to be forced to declare a major incident at our hospitals.

"Since then, patients have been transferred to Cambridge and even further afield. Currently, despite urgent measures, there are still more than 1,000 people in our hospitals being treated with confirmed Covid.

"You will be aware that Southend Hospital has had a “critical situation” regarding Oxygen capacity. Our local NHS is under pressure like never before.

"On 15th October you committed to lateral flow testing in Essex, and although we are now seeing testing being rolled out across Essex, I am sure you will share our dismay that it taken so long to set this up and is not yet at the capacity needed.

"We suggest the following ways in which this can be urgently improved in order to rapidly increase testing capacity to ten times the current levels across all boroughs and unitary authority areas in Essex:

·       Remote Lateral Flow Testing sites should not just be available in indoor settings but also in remote sites, such as using supermarket car parks, council car parks or whatever public land is available

·       LFD testing should be available to all residents once a week

·       Large scale manufacturing businesses must be required to report the number of staff tested each week and the number of positive cases.

You will also understand that one of the barriers for some residents to regular testing are the concerns about self-isolation and the consequent financial pressures.

"We urge that the Government immediately considers increasing the Test and Trace isolation payment to a level which ensures that residents don’t have to choose between putting food on the table of following the rules, and that far greater publicity is given to this."

In response a spokesman from Essex County Council, said: “Thanks to efforts of the county council and its partners across all our borough, district and city councils, the NHS and the voluntary sector, Essex currently has one of the highest levels of testing capacity in the county for people without symptoms – currently 127,000 tests per week - and it is growing by the week.  

“Fast lateral flow testing in Essex has expanded every week since the New Year. 

"Two centres opened last week, one has already opened this week with a further centre in Tendring opening in the next few days, meaning that nine of Essex’s 12 districts will have a fast testing centre by this weekend. 

"In Basildon alone, lateral flow and laboratory testing capacity for people who do not have symptoms is up to 20,000 tests a week. 

"The capacity we have is proving more than adequate for the demand for tests, which has remained consistently high.

“We have already focussed testing on working age adults and those working in manufacturing. 

"The recent introduction of ‘pick up and drop off’ PCR testing kits, available from district councils, is aimed at these groups and has been very successful.

"We have also been working with the Department for Health and Social Care to press for lateral flow tests to be approved for use more widely, including in the home.

“The county council has made its own funding available - £3 million - to support people who need to self-isolate with £500 grant payments per resident, but we welcome all efforts which help to incentivise self-isolation after a positive test. 

"Equally, we share the will of the authors to work constructively and collaboratively with the Government, which is what we and our partners have been doing.”