Home-test kits may be avail­able to pub­lic soon

The Guardian - - Front Page - Sarah Bose­ley

The govern­ment is de­vel­op­ing de­vices for the pub­lic that could show within 15 min­utes whether peo­ple have al­ready had coro­n­avirus – and thus may have some im­mu­nity – the direc­tor of Pub­lic Health Eng­land’s na­tional in­fec­tion service has told MPs.

Mil­lions of 15-minute home coro­n­avirus tests are set to be avail­able on the high street or for Ama­zon de­liv­ery to peo­ple self-iso­lat­ing, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Health Eng­land (PHE), in a move that could re­store many lives to a sem­blance of pre-lock­down nor­mal­ity.

Prof Sharon Pea­cock, the direc­tor of the na­tional in­fec­tion service at PHE, told MPs on the science and tech­nol­ogy com­mit­tee that mass test­ing in the UK would be pos­si­ble within days, say­ing eval­u­a­tion of the finger­prick tests should be com­pleted this week.

The govern­ment later took a more cau­tious line, say­ing the tests would not be avail­able so quickly.

It has bought 3.5m tests – which re­veal whether some­one has had the virus and is there­fore thought to have some im­mu­nity – and is or­der­ing mil­lions more, it has said.

At the prime min­is­ter’s daily press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, the govern­ment’s med­i­cal and sci­en­tific ad­vis­ers said they needed to be cer­tain the tests worked be­fore they could be re­leased.

“The key thing for us to do is eval­u­ate – are these tests ac­cu­rate enough to be used by the gen­eral pub­lic?” said Chris Whitty, Eng­land’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer. “If they are in­cred­i­bly ac­cu­rate, we will work out the quick­est way to re­lease them. If they are not ac­cu­rate, we will not re­lease any of them.”

The tests would “com­pletely trans­form what we can do”,but they were not as im­por­tant as the anti­gen tests used to di­ag­nose Covid-19 in sick hospi­tal pa­tients, he said.

Boris John­son said the govern­ment would make an­ti­body tests avail­able when it could. “We will do it as soon as pos­si­ble,” he said. “We are mas­sively ramp­ing up our test­ing pro­gramme.”

The home test, which looks like a preg­nancy test, in­volves prick­ing a finger to pro­duce a drop of blood, which is then analysed by the de­vice.

“Sev­eral mil­lion tests have been pur­chased for use,” Pea­cock said. “These are brand new prod­ucts. We have to be clear they work as they are claimed to do. Once they have been tested this week and the bulk of tests ar­rive, they will be dis­trib­uted into the com­mu­nity.”

Ama­zon has agreed to carry out dis­tri­bu­tion and the tests are also set to go on sale in chemist shops.

Asked if they would be avail­able in days rather than weeks or months,

Pea­cock said: “Yes, ab­so­lutely.” If there was a charge for them, she thought it would be min­i­mal, she added.

Wide­spread avail­abil­ity of a finger­prick test that pro­duces results in 10 to 15 min­utes would be a game-changer. NHS doc­tors and nurses with symp­toms would know im­me­di­ately if they had had Covid-19, enabling them to get back to work sooner.

Once peo­ple knew that they had had the virus they would be able to re­sume their nor­mal lives, no longer hav­ing to work from home or keep their dis­tance from other peo­ple.

It is widely thought that hav­ing had Covid-19 makes peo­ple im­mune to the dis­ease. There have been cases of ap­par­ent re­in­fec­tion, though they are rare.

The test de­tects the pres­ence of IGM, an an­ti­body that arises very early on in the in­fec­tion, and IGG, which is in­creased in the body’s re­sponse to the virus. The results of some of the tests on or­der can be read by any­one, but oth­ers would need to be in­ter­preted by health­care pro­fes­sion­als.

The UK is not the only coun­try or­der­ing the tests. “Tests are be­ing or­dered across Europe and else­where and pur­chased in south-east Asia. This is wide­spread prac­tice. We are not alone in do­ing this,” said Pea­cock.

Ama­zon had agreed to de­liver the home tests, Pea­cock said. There was no sug­ges­tion from her that the Royal Mail might be given the con­tract.

The govern­ment has promised that daily tests for cur­rent vi­ral in­fec­tion will reach 25,000. Last week, the num­ber of peo­ple tested topped 8,000 but then fell to a low of 5,522, be­fore re­cov­er­ing on Tuesday to 6,491.

A Boots spokesper­son said: “We are keen to work with the govern­ment to ex­plore op­por­tu­ni­ties to sup­port Covid-19 test­ing and to sup­port the NHS in any way we can. How­ever we do not have any type of Covid-19 tests in our stores. Cus­tomers should not make a trip to a Boots store or phar­macy for this pur­pose.”

The govern­ment has so far bought 3.5m tests, which John­son said would be re­leased ‘as soon as pos­si­ble’

PHO­TO­GRAPH: REUTERS

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