By Dominic Harrison, director of public health, Blackburn with Darwen Council

Pennine Lancashire exited the full national lockdown into tier three on December 2.

As part of the agreement with central government, we have been assured that we will be able to implement a six week ‘surge programme’ of community testing, similar to but not the same as, the Liverpool Mass Testing programme.

Lancashire’s programme will target higher risk communities such as homeless people, settings such as workplaces and schools or places such as electoral wards with higher rates. We will use the new Lateral Flow Devices which can give an immediate result within 30 minutes. The aim is to pick up as many people as possible who may not know they are infectious but may be spreading the virus without knowing it.

There are four distinct groups of Covid-infected people in the community at any one time, three of which will now be picked up by this wider non symptomatic community testing.

Some of us will have Covid symptoms now, be isolating but will have already been infectious for at least two days before those symptoms arrived. Some of us now will be pre-symptomatic. We will be infectious and will continue to spread the virus unknowingly for the next two days before we get symptoms, get tested and isolate. There are those who are paucisymptomatic. This group may have symptoms and will also have been infectious for two days before they got them. But the symptoms they have now may be so mild that it will not be until they are diagnosed that they will recognise that they did have them. These symptoms might include for instance low level diarrhoea, a mild but passing headache etc. Then there are those who are asymptomatic. This group will still go through the cycle of being infectious although they will have no idea they are infectious. Thankfully, the likelihood of those who are asymptomatically infected passing on the virus may be up to 60 per cent less than would be the case if they were symptomatic. However, the fact that they are not aware of their infectious status may mean that they take more risks in close contact others, including with vulnerable family members, who are more likely to have serious consequences from infection.

As we move into non symptomatic community testing, those who do have Covid symptoms will still need to continue to get tested through a routine PCR test via the existing testing sites. We will all also still need to comply with the spirit and letter of the tier three guidance.

But the community testing programme is going to provide the best opportunity we have had since the start of the pandemic for us to accelerate out of control measures like the tier three quickly.

We will do this by testing, tracing and isolating and supporting the asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic and paucisymptomatic-and that could be any of us!

Can I urge everyone who is invited to take a Lateral Flow Test over the coming months to please ‘just do it’!