UK scraps COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic as cases continue to fall

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The UK National Health Service said it will pause Covid-19 testing of staff without any outward symptoms as new infections decline and the country seeks to live with the virus.

Asymptomatic staff testing, once considered a core component of the NHS’s pandemic infection prevention and control guidance, will be paused in most health-care settings, the UK Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement Wednesday.

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Routine asymptomatic testing will also be suspended in parts of the prison estate, some places of detention, and certain domestic abuse and homelessness settings, it said.

The move comes as the rate of new Covid infections continues to fall across Britain from a surge earlier this year driven by omicron’s highly-contagious subvariants. The government had already ended most free testing for the general public in April but continued to provide a high level of testing in the health service.

After dismantling most pandemic restrictions earlier this year, the UK has mostly relied on vaccination to try to control the incidence of severe disease and death and prevent overwhelming its health system.

“Covid case rates and hospitalizations are on the decline, demonstrating the positive impact of the vaccines, which remain our best form of defense,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency.

The UK is set to roll out another round of booster shots in September to bolster immunity among people aged 50 or above and those with weakened immune system.

The shots to be deployed also include a so-called bivalent booster targeting both the ancestral strain and an earlier iteration of omicron, developed by Moderna Inc.

Testing will still be required for new hospital, care home and hospice admissions and vulnerable patients, the government said. It will also continue to provide testing for health, prison and social care staff with symptoms.

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