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‘We’re not going away’ - scientists still keen on Norwich citywide testing

PUBLISHED: 11:56 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:56 22 May 2020

The Earlham Institute in Norwich could play a key role in testing for coronavirus, if the government gives the go-ahead. Picture: Anthony Cullen

The Earlham Institute in Norwich could play a key role in testing for coronavirus, if the government gives the go-ahead. Picture: Anthony Cullen

Anthony Cullen

Scientists who mooted an ambitious project which would see everyone in Norwich tested for coronavirus once a week say they still hope it could happen, despite the government having no immediate plans for citywide testing.

Director of the Earlham Institute, Prof Neil Hall. Photo from Earlham Institute.Director of the Earlham Institute, Prof Neil Hall. Photo from Earlham Institute.

Led by scientists at the Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park, discussions have been held with hospitals, health bosses, the University of East Anglia and councils about the possibility of getting tests at home for everyone in the city.

Scientists are keen to carry out a trial, which could begin with just a few wards and grow to cover more of the population.

But such a scheme – with people testing themselves at home and then returning the swabs to be processed in laboratories at Norwich Research Park – would need funding and the go-ahead from the government.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it “continually considers” options to extend testing, but that it has no immediate plans for citywide testing.

But the Norwich scientific community has not given up and are continuing to make the case.

The Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park. Photo: Norwich Science FestivalThe Earlham Institute at Norwich Research Park. Photo: Norwich Science Festival

Prof Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said: “We are not going away. We are progressing things in terms of pulling together the plans and talking things through with people such as the councils. Our local MPs have also been very supportive.”

With the government keen to use its own official mobile phone contact tracing application to try to help further lift the lockdown measures, the Norwich scheme does not fit in with that national strategy at the moment.

That application is being used on the Isle of Wight and is due to be rolled out further.

But Prof Hall is hoping the expertise at Norwich Research Park can still be used.

He said: “At the park, we are talking about using internal money to do something on a small scale, to show the principle works.”

The concept that Norwich could be a pilot city for such testing came after a letter was sent to the medical journal The Lancet, in which leading scientists said universal testing could be the way out of the pandemic.

The letter suggested urgently trialling the method on a city of around 200,000 people - and scientists believe Norwich could fit that bill.


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