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17% of Londoners test positive for coronavirus antibodies
21 May 2020, 21:38
17 per cent of people in London have already had coronavirus and tested positive for antibodies, the Health Secretary has announced.
Speaking at today's Downing Street press conference, Matt Hancock said five per cent of people elsewhere in England have already had coronavirus and added there were plans for antibody certificates.
Data gathered from an antibody surveillance study led by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests 17% of people in London and around 5% in England have tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus, the Health Secretary told the daily Downing Street briefing.
It comes as the Government agreed a deal with pharmaceutical firms Roche and Abbott for more than 10 million antibody tests, which will first be rolled out to health and social care staff as well as patients and care home residents.
While it remains unclear what level of immunity people develop once they have had Covid-19, some experts hope a degree of immunity lasts for at least a year or two.
However, having antibodies does not automatically mean a person will not pass the virus onto somebody else.
Mr Hancock also said that he hoped everybody would take a vaccine if one is developed.
But he said the question of whether it should be mandatory had not yet been addressed.
"We are doing everything we can to get a vaccine and we will only recommend a vaccine if it is safe," he said.
"That means that if we get a vaccine - and I very much hope that we will and we are working incredibly hard for that - and people are asked to take that vaccine, then they absolutely should because we will only do it on the basis of clinical advice that it is safe.
"The question of whether it is mandatory is not one we have addressed yet, we are still some time off a vaccine being available.
"But I would hope, given the scale of this crisis and given the overwhelming need for us to get through this and to get the country back on its feet, and the very positive impact that a vaccine would have, that everybody would have the vaccine."
Mr Hancock also announced a trial of a rapid 20-minute test to tell people if they currently have Covid-19 following criticisms that people have been waiting days or weeks for test results.
A&E departments, GP testing hubs and care homes in Hampshire will all trial the new test, which will be used on up to 4,000 people.
The test does not need to be sent off to a lab and will be rolled out if it is shown to be effective, Mr Hancock said.
Ahead of the press briefing, Downing Street announced a U-turn on the NHS surcharge, saying overseas health and care staff will be exempted from the fee levied on migrants to pay for the NHS.
It came after mounting pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson from senior Tories, with former party chairman Lord Patten calling the charge "appalling" and "monstrous".
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who urged Mr Johnson in the Commons on Wednesday to scrap the charge, said: "Boris Johnson is right to have U-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers.
"This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do. We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next."
The decision came a day after another U-turn when the Government extended a scheme offering indefinite leave to remain to the families of all NHS staff who die as a result of contracting coronavirus.