Millions of 'game-changer' coronavirus home tests to be available in 'near future'

25 March 2020, 15:32

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Millions of "game-changer" coronavirus tests could be made readily available to the public within a matter of days, a Public Health England official told MPs.

Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England (PHE) told the Science and Technology Committee that 3.5 million coronavirus tests had been bought and would be available in the "near future".

She said the Covid-19 tests would allow key workers, such as doctors and nurses, to return to work and hospitals if it showed they had developed antibodies to the virus.

But the government's chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty urged caution about rushing the kits out for public use. He said: “The one thing that is worse than no test, is a bad test.”

He added that it was vital that the tests, once verified as being effective, were given to the right people first.

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The kits, which look like pregnancy tests, could be distributed via Amazon and would be made available at places such as Boots, the professor explained.

However, before entering the public domain, the tests would require testing themselves in a laboratory to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously described a simple Covid-19 test as a potential "game-changer" in the battle against the virus.

Millions of game-changer coronavirus tests could be available within days
Millions of game-changer coronavirus tests could be available within days. Picture: PA

Prof Peacock added: "Once we are assured that they do work, they will be rolled out into the community.

"Testing the test is a small matter, and I anticipate that it will be done by the end of this week.

"In the near future people will be able to order a test that they can test themselves, or go to Boots, or somewhere similar to have their finger prick test done."

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Asked whether this meant it would be available in a number of days, rather than weeks or months, she said "absolutely".

The professor revealed on Wednesday that millions of the kits had been ordered and that they would essentially be able to tell you whether or not you are immune to Covid-19.

It would be able to show an individual whether or not they have antibodies for the virus and, if they did and were showing no symptoms, they would be able to return to work.

The tests could be readily available to the public
The tests could be readily available to the public. Picture: PA

According to the government, it is almost not possible to catch coronavirus twice in quick succession. Evidence supposedly shows that you cannot get infected again shortly after recovery.

The World Health Organisation had previously urged governments to "test, test, test" their citizens to combat the spread of the deadly disease.

Jeremy Corbyn called for clarity from Boris Johnson in the Commons on Wednesday, asking why the government had not sought to buy testing kits earlier after a leaked letter showed the prime minister had written to UK laboratories on Sunday.

He replied: "Testing is vital in our success at beating the coronavirus and, as the health secretary has said many times, we are massively increasing our testing campaign, going up from 5,000 to 10,000 to 25,000 a day.

"In answer directly to his question, this has been a priority for the Government ever since the crisis was obviously upon us - for weeks and weeks."