Britons could be allowed to return to nightclubs and theatres with the use of rapid coronavirus tests, the prime minister has suggested.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference on Monday, Boris Johnson said the use of lateral flow tests could be the “route forward” to reopening those businesses that have been “the toughest nuts to crack”.
Nightclubs have been shut ever since coronavirus restrictions were first introduced in the UK last March, while theatres reopened in the summer but only at reduced capacities.
Asked about the prospect of “vaccine passports” being used to demonstrate whether someone had had a COVID jab, the prime minister admitted some international travel would likely require proof of vaccination.
But he suggested the use of testing would be a likelier means of allowing businesses within the UK to reopen.
“Some countries, clearly, are going to be wanting to insist that people coming to their country have evidence of a vaccination – just as people have insisted in the past that you have evidence you are vaccinated against Yellow Fever or other diseases,” Mr Johnson said.
“For the purposes of this country and doing things within the domestic UK economy, we will look at everything.
“But what we are thinking of at the moment is more of a route that relies on mass vaccination – we intend to vaccinate all of the adults in the country by the autumn – plus lateral flow testing, rapid testing for those bits that have been the toughest nuts to crack.
“Such as nightclubs or theatres – those parts of the economy we couldn’t get open last year.
“I think that will be the route that we go down and that businesses will go down. You are already seeing lots of business using the potential of rapid, on-the-day testing as well.
“I think that, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward.”
But the prime minister, who will next week reveal his roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions, warned it was “still early days” in easing COVID measures and “there are lots of discussions still to be had”.
Pregnancy-style lateral flow tests have been used by the government as part of “surge testing” in areas with high coronavirus rates.
They can give results in 30 minutes and are also currently being offered to people who do not have symptoms in a range of settings, such as universities, schools, care homes and workplaces.
Last week, the government ordered 20 million lateral flow tests in a new contract with a Derby-based manufacturer.
The SureScreen Diagnostics tests – the first British tests to be validated in the laboratory by Public Health England – are in the final stage of validation in clinical trials.
In total, the government is reported to have spent more than £1bn on lateral flow tests.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, last week described lateral flow tests as a “really important part of our toolkit”, despite previous doubts over their reliability.