Mass test­ing kits a ‘gamechange­r’

Ama­zon and Boots could send out equip­ment that would show if peo­ple are im­mune to virus

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Laura Don­nelly Health edi­tor



MORE than three mil­lion “gamechange­r” test­ing kits that re­veal whether peo­ple have al­ready had coro­n­avirus could be avail­able via Ama­zon and Boots within weeks.

Of­fi­cials want the tests, which are called an­ti­body tests and only work when a per­son has re­cov­ered, to go first to those who most ur­gently need to re­turn to work, such as health work­ers. Some sci­en­tists be­lieve the spread of the virus is far more wide­spread than of­fi­cial fig­ures sug­gest. King’s Col­lege Lon­don claims one in 10 peo­ple – about 6.5mil­lion – may have the virus.

The prospect of wide­spread test­ing could mean that key pub­lic ser­vices and parts of econ­omy are able to re­open within weeks.

Se­nior of­fi­cials have laid out plans to in­crease the rate of test­ing amid warn­ings that the pan­demic is likely to peak around Easter and came as Boris John­son said that in just 24 hours half a mil­lion peo­ple had signed up to be vol­un­teers for the NHS.

Health chiefs yes­ter­day said they had se­cured 3.5mil­lion home test­ing kits – to be tar­geted at key work­ers in­clud­ing hospi­tal and care staff – and or­dered mil­lions more for use more widely.

Prof Sharon Pea­cock, direc­tor of the Na­tional In­fec­tion Service at Pub­lic Health Eng­land, said tri­als should com- pleted this week with the finger-prick tests dis­trib­uted by Ama­zon, or phar­ma­cists such as Boots.

Asked when this could hap­pen, she told MPS: “I would be some­what less cat­e­gor­i­cal about the date but in the near fu­ture peo­ple will be able to or­der a test that they can test on them­selves or go to Boots or some­where sim­i­lar to get their finger-prick test done.” She said the tests would al­low key work­ers in­clud­ing doc­tors and nurses to re­turn to work if they had de­vel­oped an­ti­bod­ies.

Health of­fi­cials later sug­gested the timescale was more likely to be weeks. They also stressed that this was un­likely to be a com­mer­cial service, with the NHS seek­ing to harness the lo­gis­ti­cal skills of such providers, rather than al­low peo­ple to buy their own kits online.

The Prime Min­is­ter has said such tests could ul­ti­mately prove a “gamechange­r”, al­low­ing mil­lions to know if they had de­vel­oped im­mu­nity.

Last night health chiefs said the pri­or­ity was to boost ca­pac­ity so that NHS staff with symp­toms could be tested. Cur­rently, health ser­vices are only test­ing around 6,000 cases a day – the vast ma­jor­ity of whom are hospi­tal pa­tients.

As a re­sult, doc­tors and nurses with pos­si­ble symp­toms and those who had come into contact with cases were hav­ing to self-iso­late for up to two weeks without know­ing if they had the virus.

Yes­ter­day, Prof Stephen Powis, NHS Eng­land’s med­i­cal direc­tor, said tests would be made avail­able to some NHS staff in “the next few days”. Min­is­ters pledged to in­crease to­tal num­bers to 25,000 a day by the end of next month and ul­ti­mately to 250,000 tests a day.

Prof Powis said he hoped to “get to hun­dreds of thou­sands of tests a day – and we will do that over the course of the next few weeks and we will be mak­ing tests avail­able to NHS staff within the next few days.”

Dr Jenny Har­ries, the Deputy Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, said the peak of coro­n­avirus cases in the UK could come around Easter then de­cline, if Bri­tain main­tained so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines.

“What we hope is that in about two to three weeks, if peo­ple have con­tin­ued to do as we have asked and cut

‘Any­body who looks around the world can see this is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for ev­ery health sys­tem’

down their so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, we would start to see a change in the slope of the graph,” she said. “That means the peak will be pushed for­ward but the height of it will be lower and we can man­age all those who need hospi­tal and health­care safely through our NHS.”

Dr Har­ries said con­cerns about short­ages of personal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE) for front­line staff treat­ing coro­n­avirus pa­tients were top of the list, re­veal­ing her own daugh­ter was a ju­nior doc­tor work­ing for the NHS, who had raised the is­sue. Medics had said they were be­ing sent like “lambs to the slaugh­ter” treat­ing pa­tients.

Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, said the abil­ity of the NHS to cope would de­pend on pub­lic co­op­er­a­tion: “Any­body who looks around the world can see this is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for ev­ery health sys­tem. But the mea­sures an­nounced for the pub­lic – which all of us have to do if the NHS is to get through this, and the fan­tas­tic work by the NHS to in­crease sup­ply – that is the way we will nar­row this gap over the next three weeks.”

He added that if ev­ery­body stuck to the rules on lim­it­ing so­cial in­ter­ac­tion “this gap will be prob­a­bly man­age­able by the NHS.”

Ear­lier, Prof Neil Ferguson, an infectious dis­eases ex­pert, said the lock­down should mean the NHS could cope. He told MPS that keep­ing peo­ple in­side and in­creas­ing NHS staff and beds would stop in­ten­sive care units be­ing over­whelmed, although there could be dif­fi­cul­ties at lo­cal level.

But there was now a “rea­son­able de­gree of cer­tainty” that govern­ment mea­sures could put the epi­demic into de­cline. “In some ar­eas ICUS will get very close to ca­pac­ity but it won’t be breached at a na­tional level,” he told the science and tech­nol­ogy com­mit­tee.

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