How Covid-19 Testing in the UK has Changed throughout the Pandemic

rapid antigen test

Throughout the course of the pandemic, testing in the UK has evolved from what began as a confirmatory measure for people who were showing symptoms, to a widespread method of rapid detection.

From the launch of the Test and Trace scheme, to the current country-wide rollout of rapid antigen testing, we take a look at the Covid-19 testing milestones of the last 14 months:

January 2020

  • The first 2 people in the UK test positive for coronavirus at the end of January.


February 2020

  • The coronavirus is officially named ‘Covid-19’ by the WHO.
  • Testing begins in the UK to confirm cases of the virus in hospitals.


March 2020

  • The WHO officially declare a global pandemic.
  • By the end of the month, the number of cases in the UK surpass 5000.
  • Pubs, restaurants and gyms are closed to the public in the first national lockdown for England.
  • The government sets ambitious targets to test thousands of individuals per day.


April 2020

  • Testing remains focused on diagnosing hospital patients with the virus and protecting key workers and public service staff rather than the wider public.
  • The government struggle to meet testing targets due to short supply of testing equipment.


May 2020

  • Testing is expanded to include care home workers and individuals with symptoms who cannot work from home.
  • The testing capacity increases as over 100,000 people are tested every day by the end of the month.
  • The Test and Trace scheme is launched on the 28th of May.


June 2020

  • Restrictions start to relax after a decrease in the number of new cases.
  • Testing figures continue to increase.


July 2020

  • The government outline their plan to reopen schools safely in September with promise of mobile testing units and provision of home test kits for children and their families who display symptoms.
  • Lockdown restrictions are eased further.
  • Plans to open walk-in test centres across England are launched.


August 2020

  • Local lockdowns are introduced to areas with a spike in case numbers including Preston and Lancashire.
  • Restrictions continue to ease across the rest of the country.
  • The Eat Out to Help Out Scheme is launched.


September 2020

  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock urges people to avoid the inappropriate use of Covid-19 tests if they do not have symptoms as the system struggles to cope with the rising demand for tests.
  • By the end of the month, restrictions begin to tighten again as local lockdowns fail to curb the increase in cases.
  • The Test and Trace Support Payment scheme is launched with £500 being offered to those being told to self-isolate by the app and cannot work from home/low income.


October 2020

  • Tier regulations come into force, replacing local lockdowns. Regions are allocated to tiers based on local infection rates, with tier 3 areas facing the toughest restrictions.
  • Rapid Covid-19 testing is piloted in universities in England to detect cases in individuals without symptoms of the virus.


November 2020

  • A month-long national lockdown comes into force in England.
  • City-wide Covid-19 rapid testing trial is piloted in Liverpool with support from military personnel. This is then rolled out to a further 67 areas of England after 700 positive cases of asymptomatic people are detected in Liverpool.
  • NHS Test and Trace makes Covid-19 tests available for GPs to use at their discretion for symptomatic patients, staff and household members.


December 2020

  • Dr Susan Hopkins defends rapid antigen testing following criticism, saying they could identify many cases of infection amongst asymptomatic people.
  • Mass testing is rolled out to 67 tier 3 areas from the 14th of December.
  • A new tier 4 level of restrictions is introduced to combat new, quick-spreading strain of the virus.
  • Lateral flow tests are approved for use at home for the first time to enable those who are self-isolating to return to the workplace following a negative test result.


January 2021

  • Another national lockdown is announced for England as cases rise rapidly.
  • Asymptomatic rapid antigen testing is rolled out across England. Local authorities are encouraged to target those who cannot work from home to limit spread at the workplace.
  • Companies with 250+ employees can get access to free lateral flow devices to test their staff and minimise workplace transmission.


February 2021

  • Companies with 50+ employees can now get access to free lateral flow devices to test their staff.
  • A new South African variant is identified, with enhance testing launched in areas where this strain has been detected.
  • The government continue to defend lateral flow tests, declaring that despite some false negative results, the test kits correctly identify the vast majority of cases.


With as many as 1 in 3 individuals with Covid-19 showing no symptoms of the virus, it is still more important than ever to get tested. Every positive test result identified is a case of the virus that would not have otherwise been detected.

Moore MedTech are helping businesses to reduce viral transmission at the workplace by implementing fully managed on-site testing programmes. We can also conduct online support sessions and create bespoke training videos and landing pages for companies who wish to put their own programmes in place. 


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