- Government’s around the world are examining plans for so-called “immunity passports” that could allow people who have immunity to the coronavirus to return to normal life.
- However, the UK is months away from identifying a test which works, a scientific advisor to Boris Johnson’s government has warned.
- The tests the government have looked at so far do not work and that a large-scale solution would take ‘at least a month’ to develop, Professor John Bell warned.
- The UK government ordered 3.5 million of them last week, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday: “We still don’t have any that are good enough.”
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The world could be months away from identifying a functional coronavirus antibody test which would allow millions of people to return to work, a scientific advisor to Boris Johnson’s government has warned, dashing hopes that one could be rolled out within weeks.
The UK government plans to roll out antibody testing in order to give people the opportunity to be granted “immunity passports” and leave the coronavirus lockdown early.
However, none of the world’s leading industrial nations have yet identified a working test.
Professor John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford University tasked with assessing the effectiveness of various antibody tests, said on Sunday that the tests the government have looked at so far do not work and that a large-scale solution would take “at least a month” to develop.
“Sadly, the tests we have looked at to date have not performed well,” he wrote in a blog published on the Oxford University website.
“We see many false negatives (tests where no antibody is detected despite the fact we know it is there) and we also see false positives.”
“The government will be working with suppliers both new and old to try and deliver this result so we can scale up antibody testing for the British public. This will take at least a month.”
Professor John Newton, who is in charge of scaling up Britain’s coronavirus testing, said on Sunday that the test kits Britain had ordered from China do not work.
The UK government ordered 3.5 million of them last week, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday: “We still don’t have any that are good enough.”
It contradicts claims made by Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, who claimed last week that home-testing kits for the coronavirus could be available “within days” to order from Boots or Amazon.
Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, subsequently clarified that tests would not be available to order from the internet imminently.
“The one thing worse than no test is a bad test,” Whitty said last Wednesday.
“I do not think, and I want to be clear, that this is something we’ll be ordering from the internet in a matter of weeks.”
Antibody tests could provide an exit strategy for Boris Johnson to ease the UK lockdown, which prevents most people from going to work.
The finger-prick tests could, in theory, show within fifteen minutes whether someone has had the virus.
Experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is helping to lead the United States’ coronavirus response, have expressed confidence that recovered coronavirus patients would be immune to the disease, thereby allowing them to return to work, but further research is needed to be certain.
The prime minister, who was admitted to hospital on Sunday as he continued to display coronavirus symptoms, is reportedly coming under increasing pressure from the Treasury to detail how and when it will end the current measures, which prevent most people from going to work.
Officials are said to be concerned that extending the measures for longer than several months could have a permanent and disastrous impact on the UK economy.