Boris Johnson has spoken of his hope for regular mass coronavirus testing of the population as a route back to a more normal life.
The prime minister said the government is “working hard” to increase daily COVID-19 testing capacity to 500,000 by the end of next month.
But he said the long-term ambition was for millions of coronavirus tests to be processed every day, with some results potentially being turned around in as little as 20 minutes.
Mr Johnson characterised at as the “Moonshot approach”.
He was speaking at a Downing Street news conference to announce a ban on social gatherings of more than six people in England from Monday.
The PM said: “Up to now, we have used testing primarily to identify people who are positive – so we can isolate them from the community and protect high risk groups.”
While he said that will “continue to be our priority”, Mr Johnson said he wanted to “in the near future” begin to use testing to “identify people who are negative – who don’t have coronavirus and who are not infectious”.
The PM said this would allow them to “behave in a more normal way, in the knowledge they cannot infect anyone else with the virus”.
“And we think, we hope, we believe that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable will become available,” Mr Johnson added.
“They use swabs or saliva and can turn round results in 90 or even 20 minutes.
“Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved – literally millions of tests processed every single day.”
Outlining how mass testing could facilitate a return to a more normal life, the PM said theatres and sporting venues could test all audience members and let in those who return a negative result.
He added: “Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning and allow them to behave in a way that was normal before COVID.
“Those isolating because they are a contact, or quarantining after travelling abroad could, after a period, be tested and released.
“Now that is an ambitious agenda, but we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues.
“And then we hope to go nationwide.”
The PM added: “We’re hoping the ‘Moonshot’ approach will work and we will be able to deliver mass testing which will give people the freedom pass, the ‘laissez-passer’, the knowledge that they are not infectious and can hang out with other people who are not infectious in a pre-COVID way.”