In Brief

How the new £5 Covid tests work - and how they might end lockdown

Swab kits that give results in 15 minutes could pave the way for ‘daily freedom passes’

A newly developed cheap and rapid test for Covid-19 could help to contain the coronavirus pandemic as effectively as a vaccine, Boris Johnson has suggested.

The swab test - which costs £5 and delivers a result in as little as 15 minutes - is “one of the boxing gloves we hope to wield to pummel this disease into submission”, the prime minister told MPs yesterday. “The other is the prospect of a vaccine.

Widespread testing “raises hopes of a night at opera”, says The Times - and a return to “footie matches and live gigs”, adds The Sun.

How do the new tests work?

The new “lateral flow tests” involve a nasal swab like those used in many conventional coronavirus tests. But instead of needing to be sent to a lab, the new version could be processed at home.

The swab is “inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time”, says the BBC, and then drops of the liquid are “added to the test strip”, which resembles those in pregnancy test kits. After between 15 and 30 minutes, one or two bars will appear: one to indicate that the test has worked, and another if the result is positive.

How accurate are they?

Newly published trial results reveal that the rapid tests are “less accurate than standard lab-based PCR tests”, picking up only “77% of cases identified by usual methods”, The Times reports. However, “this rose to 95% of those with the highest viral loads, who are thought to be most infectious”.

Oxford University professor John Bell, who has been helping to evaluate the tests, points out that the kits will also make it easier to detect cases among “large numbers of people who have never previously even received a test”. Used systematically, they “could reduce transmissions by 90%”, he added.

So could at-home testing end lockdown?

The new tests offer two routes back to normality: more effective detection of positive cases and more freedom for those who test negative.

“The fast turnaround also allows positive people to isolate quickly, reducing spread,” says the Liverpool Echo, whose home city was involved in a pilot of the new tests.

By “early next year”, people who don’t have the virus could be given a daily “freedom pass”, says The Sun. “Those testing negative in the morning would be allowed to safely return to football matches, concerts, cinemas and busy pubs.”

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