Coronavirus: Home test kits could be available in UK within days

Tests designed to establish whether people have earlier been infected with virus

Two women sitting on a bench in the UK. Reuters 
Two women sitting on a bench in the UK. Reuters 

The UK should have coronavirus test kits available in days to establish who has contracted the disease or developed immunity.

Sharon Peacock, interim director of the National Infection Service, said millions of the antibody tests had been ordered and depending on their form, some might be able to be administered at home.

It could allow crucial healthcare workers to return to work if they had developed antibodies.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday that the government had bought 3.5 million of the tests.

There have been 1,427 confirmed cases and 422 deaths in the UK but new research by the University of Oxford has suggested as much as half of the country could already be infected.

The tests are designed to establish whether people have been infected with coronavirus, as opposed to antigen tests that show if someone has the virus as they are experiencing symptoms.

"These are brand new products. We have to be clear they work as they are claimed to do," Ms Peacock told a select committee in Parliament.

"Once they have been tested, and that will happen this week, once the bulk of tests arrive, they will be distributed into the community," she said.

The tests could be delivered by Amazon.

"Testing the test is a small matter, and I would anticipate that it would be done by the end of this week,” Ms Peacock said.

She said there were various different models and some might require people to go to a local chemist.

Ms Peacock said she thought any charge for the tests would be minimal and although she declined to say they would be available by next week, she confirmed that they would be ready in days rather than weeks or months.

The UK has brought in strict measures to battle the spread of the virus, including ordering people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

A top epidemiologist who advised the government said on Wednesday that if the actions of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team were successful, demand for beds in intensive care could peak in the coming weeks.

"We're moderately confident, as I've said, but can't be completely sure," Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told the same committee.

"If the current measures work as we would expect them to then we will see intensive care unit demand peak in approximately two and half to three weeks' time and then decline thereafter.

Prof Ferguson said that in the next six months, up to one in 10 Londoners could be infected.

"It will vary a lot by geographic area," he said. "It's possible that up to 5, at the outside 10 per cent of the London population will have some form of infection in that time."

He said recent data from South Korea, which has had a low mortality rate and regular testing, was encouraging.

"We are looking at that as a model," Prof Ferguson said. "The UK does not have the testing capability to replicate South Korea right now but it is likely in the next few weeks we will do."

Updated: March 26, 2020 02:58 AM


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