City-wide Covid-19 tests could free millions of people from self-isolation, a Government adviser has suggested, allowing people to “go about their business” again.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said the programme – about to be launched in Liverpool – could mean people are only told to self-isolate in the event of a positive test instead of as a precaution. 

Currently, all close contacts of a positive case must self-isolate for 14 days – meaning entire families are stuck indoors for a fortnight if a household member is infected. Ministers are considering halving the time close Covid-19 contacts are asked to self-isolate indoors to a week.

However, scientists suggested that if mass testing works and is offered across the whole population it could replace such systems.

Slovakia recently became one of the first countries in the world to offer mass testing, with two-thirds of its population tested over the weekend. The same strategy has been used in small countries such as Luxembourg and in Chinese cities including Wuhan, where coronavirus is believed to have originated. 

Sir John said his team have trialled 70 pregnancy-style tests and found six “that look really good”, with millions now being rolled out to support NHS Test and Trace.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hesitate to use the word game-changer, because it gets over-used, but it is a significant step forward in the testing arena.”

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