Dustbin collectors, prison officers and the armed forces will be able to use daily Covid tests to avoid isolation under a dramatic expansion in workplace testing sites.
All those who have been doubled jabbed in the critical services sectors will be exempted from rules requiring home quarantine following close contact with people with the virus.
Some 2,000 testing sites will be created across the country in total, building on the 800 sites lined up for the food industry, transport workers, Border Force staff, frontline police and fire services.
The decision to provide special test sites for refuse collectors followed pleas from council chiefs, and followed fears that household waste could pile up due to a shortage of staff.
In addition, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HM Revenue and Customs will also be prioritised for the extra 1,200 new daily contact testing sites.
Daily testing using rapid lateral flow tests will enable eligible workers who have received alerts from the NHS Covid 19 app or have been called by Test and Trace and told they are a contact and to isolate, to continue working if they test negative each day.
Key NHS staff are already allowed to exempt themselves from the isolation rules, as long as they are double jabbed and can show that their absence would affect clinical care.
The move follows the latest meeting of the “Covid-O” operations committee which oversees key policy responses to the pandemic.
Ministers acted after Oxford University research for the department of health and social care (DHSC) found that in schools, daily contact testing was just as effective at controlling transmission as the current 10-day self-isolation policy.
Organisations are being contacted by the DHSC so they can mobilise sites this week to ensure critical workers can continue their vital roles safely, although it is understood that less than 50 have so far been set up.
The workplace testing scheme is separate from another government programme to allow individuals to apply for exemptions in key industries.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “Whether it’s prison guards reporting for duty, waste collectors keeping our streets clean or workers in our energy sector keeping the lights on, critical workers have been there for us at every stage of this global pandemic.”
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Critical workers up and down the country have repeatedly stepped up to the challenge of making sure our key services are delivered and communities are supported.
“We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will continue to support them to do their jobs safely and securely. This expansion of the daily contact testing centres is vital and hugely welcome.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added: “Our Armed Forces have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, ensuring operations and training at home and abroad continue while at the same time providing round the clock support to the nation’s response to Covid.
“Expanding the daily contact testing scheme is hugely welcome, allowing our personnel to continue that vital work across the UK and abroad.”