UK sending coronavirus tests to Germany as results come back quicker

3 April 2020, 10:57

Medical staff taking test samples at Chessington World of Adventure
Medical staff taking test samples at Chessington World of Adventure. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK is sending coronavirus tests to centres in Germany because the results come back twice as fast.

It comes as a UK coronavirus test centre sat empty on Thursday with just 75 workers being screened at the drive-through centre at Chessington World of Adventures.

According to The Sun, hundreds of swabs have been shipped off to Germany for processing as the country turns results around far quicker.

Read more: What is the government's new 'five pillar' coronavirus testing strategy?

Public Health England facilities can take up to four days to process samples, compared to just one day in German labs. NHS workers then get their results two days later.

According to the report, Northampton General Hospital sent samples from 400 staff to the German labs of Eurofins Biomnis on Monday, with results being returned as soon as Wednesday.

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Kettering General Hospital and Northamptonshire Healthcare have also been invited to take part.

Eurofins would not confirm whether it had a deal in place with the NHS, however it did say it planned to increase testing.

“We could partner with the NHS to create very significant capacity for the UK," it said.

Read more: 'Fit and healthy' NHS nurse dies two weeks after being diagnosed with coronavirus

On Wednesday, the UK managed to test more than 10,000 people in the space of 24 hours for the very first time.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has set an ambitious target saying he wants 100,000 tests to be carried out every day in England by the end of April.

Empty testing bays at a testing site in Chessington World of Adventures on Thursday
Empty testing bays at a testing site in Chessington World of Adventures on Thursday. Picture: PA

Germany is already managing to carry out 70,000 tests a day - the equivalent of 1,106 people per 100,000. The UK is currently carrying out just 245 per 100,000.

Roughly 5,000 frontline NHS workers have been screened out of 500,000 - which equates to just one per cent. Further testing will allow staff to return to the frontline if they have already developed antibodies to coronavirus.

Read more: Two more Nightingale hospitals to open in Bristol and Harrogate

During the government's daily press briefing on Thursday, Mr Hancock was asked why the UK was behind countries like Germany.

The health secretary defended the government's strategy, saying Britain "didn't go into this crisis with a huge diagnostics industry" like other countries.

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Mr Hancock said the decision to test critically ill patients over NHS staff so far was to save lives.

“I understand why staff want tests," he said.

“But I took the decision that the priority has to be patients for whom test results could be the difference between life or death.”

There are two separate types of coronavirus tests: the antigen test and the antibody test.

The antigen test will tell you whether or not you are currently infected with Covid-19. It is being used to check ill patients in hospitals and will be rolled out to NHS staff as well.

The antibody test will tell you whether you have recently had the virus. It is not readily available to the public as Public Health England wants to first ensure it is thoroughly accurate before rolling it out en masse.