Shop, restaurant and bar staff first in line as mass coronavirus testing begins in York

The York St John University coronavirus testing hub. Photograph: YorkMix

Shop staff, restaurant and hospitality workers and people with jobs in transport will be the first to have access to mass asymptomatic coronavirus testing in York before Christmas.

City leaders decided that people working in retail, transport and leisure should be given priority over those working with vulnerable people in the voluntary sector.

The testing, for people without symptoms of the virus, will be carried out at a hub at York St John University and could start within days.

Workers will not be forced to get tested and if demand is low the test centre will open to more key groups.

Up to 4,000 people could be tested each week.

The rapid lateral flow tests are not as accurate and any positives will be followed up with a PCR test which is analysed in a laboratory.

Vulnerable and isolated

An explanation of how the lateral flow testing works at York St John University

York’s outbreak management board was asked if the first mass tests should focus on workers in retail, hospitality and transport – who come into contact with lots of people on a daily basis. Or on people who work with vulnerable residents.

Fiona Phillips, from York’s public health team, said there are likely to be more asymptomatic cases of coronavirus among hospitality workers.

But that there are worse consequences if people who work with vulnerable residents pass the virus on without realising it.

She said from a scientific viewpoint it would be better to test hospitality staff because more asymptomatic cases are likely to be confirmed.

And added that it is unlikely that large numbers of retail and hospitality staff will need to self-isolate because rates are low.

But Alison Semmence, from York Centre for Voluntary Services, said: “We know there are lots of people in York that we haven’t been able to reach that are lonely and vulnerable and very isolated.

“My hope is that if we can test the workforce – paid or unpaid – we’d be able to reach those people.”

A tough choice

North Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Lisa Winward

“From my point of view they are a priority group but I completely understand there is a dilemma.”

Lisa Winward, chief constable of North Yorkshire Police, added that people may be reluctant to sign up for a test and risk being told that they have to self-isolate for two weeks before Christmas.

Keith Aspden, council leader, said: “There seems to be general acceptance that this is a very tough choice that nobody would would like to make.”

He said both groups are important, and asked for an update on how soon testing can be expanded.

He added: “Both those categories of people are important, those working in transport and retail that contact lots of people and will be working throughout Christmas, but also those that are coming into contact voluntarily or through work with vulnerable people or with their families.”