In Brief

Coronavirus home-testing kits to be made widely available in UK

Antibody test could restore lives to a ‘semblance of pre-lockdown normality’

Coronavirus home-testing kits are set to be available soon to healthcare workers and the general public in the UK.

The 15-minute kits will reveal whether someone has had the virus and is therefore thought to have some immunity. The home test involves pricking a finger to produce a drop of blood, which is then analysed by a device that looks like a pregnancy test unit.

The antibody test cannot tell you if you currently have the virus - it is intended for people who have already had symptoms and recovered, allowing them to know if they are no longer infectious and can return to work.

The Telegraph describes the development as a “game changer” and The Guardian says it “could restore many people’s lives to a semblance of pre-lockdown normality”.

Yesterday, Prof Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service at Public Health England, told MPs on the science and technology committee that mass testing in the UK would be possible within days, but Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, rowed back on this, saying that the tests would not be available so quickly.

He said the test must first be validated in Oxford to ensure it works as well as scientists hope.

“The key thing for us to do is evaluate – are these tests accurate enough to be used by the general public?” Whitty said during Boris Johnson's daily coronavirus update last night. “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.”

Officials want the tests to be targeted first at those most likely to have already encountered Covd-19, and those who most urgently need to return to work. 

“I do not think, and I want to be clear, that this is something that we’ll suddenly be ordering on the internet next week. We need to go through the evaluation, then the first critical uses, then spread it out from that point of view. We need to do that in a systematic way,” said Whitty.

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The BBC said 90,436 people in the UK had been tested for coronavirus as of 24 March - currently between 5,000 and 6,000 a day. The government plans to increase this to 25,000 tests a day within four weeks.

The World Health Organization has warned that testing must be increased around the world. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had a “simple message” for all countries: “Test, test, test.”

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