The UK is currently looking to scale up its COVID-19 testing capacity, with the aim of testing hundreds of thousands people daily. The Government has purchased 3.5 million coronavirus antibody tests, and is hoping to start rolling these out into the wider community soon.
What is a coronavirus antibody test?
Presently the UK is only testing people in hospital who have suspected COVID-19.
The tests the UK are using can detect whether someone is currently infected with the virus.
But the Government is pushing to increase antibody testing, which would distinguish whether someone has already been infected with the virus and has recovered.
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If a person tests positive for coronavirus antibodies, some experts believe reinfection is unlikely, which would suggest a person is immune to catching and spreading the virus again.
Readily available antibody tests would be beneficial for the UK as a whole, but would make a significant difference to NHS workers in particular.
If a healthcare worker tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies, they will be able to return to work from self-isolation, as they will have a significantly reduced risk of passing the virus onto patients and other staff.
The availability of these tests will also mean other key workers in the UK’s efforts to tackle coronavirus can also return to work.
When will coronavirus antibody tests be available?
Around the world, there has been significant demand for COVID-19 antibody tests.
The UK has already purchased millions of coronavirus antibody tests, but there will still be a wait before these tests are readily available.
The antibody tests cannot be released into circulation until they have been thoroughly vetted to check their accuracy.
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The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said this week the “one thing that is worse than no test is a bad test.”
Professor Sharon Peacock, Director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England (PHE), told the Science and Technology Committee this week tests would be available in the “near future”, and could be distributed via stores like Boots or online by Amazon.
Professor Peacock added: “Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community.
“Taking the test is a small matter and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.
“In the near future people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done.”
Until successful testing is completed of these antibody kits, it seems there will be a wait of many weeks, or even months, before these tests are readily available for everyone.
Essential workers, such as NHS staff, will also get prioritised access to these tests if they prove effective.
Professor Whitty added this week: “I do not think – and I want to be clear – that this is something we’ll suddenly be ordering on the internet next week.”
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