Health and social care workers will be prioritised for new “incredibly important” coronavirus antibody tests and could receive them within weeks.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, promised the tests that show if someone has previously had COVID-19 will be rolled out “rapidly”.
The blood tests by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche have been approved for widespread distribution in the UK by Public Health England, which has found they have an accuracy of 100%.
They were cleared by Porton Down and should help indicate if a person has gained some degree of immunity against the virus, helping ease lockdown measures.
Prof Van-Tam confirmed at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing: “I anticipate that it will be rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come – as soon as it is practical to do so.
“I also anticipate that the focus will be on the national health service and on carers in the first instance.”
He added “the chances of a false positive are extremely low with this test” so “this is a good test that will stand us in good stead moving forwards”.
Prof Van-Tam cautioned it could take up to 28 days after someone is infected before the test can properly confirm if a person did have the virus.
It will “take time” to monitor how much people with antibodies have immunity from the virus and if they do, how long that immunity lasts for, he explained.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said the news the tests could be distributed soon was “very exciting” given they are “very, very reliable”.
They were heralded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as being a “game-changer” for lifting lockdown because someone who finds out they have COVID-19 antibodies can be “safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again”.
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