England’s public health body has given the green light to a coronavirus antibody test made by Swiss drugmaker Roche, in what could be a crucial step in Britain’s effort to trace the outbreak.
An antibody test is a blood test that can tell whether somebody has had coronavirus, even if they have recovered.
Up to now, tests have been unreliable. The UK bought 3.5 million finger-prick tests that could not be used because they were inaccurate.
Currently, the UK uses swab testing which can only tell whether someone has the virus at the time of the test.
UK coronavirus testing coordinator John Newton said Public Health England’s (PHE) finding that Roche’s tests are reliable “is a very positive development”.
“Such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection,” he said.
According to The Telegraph, which first reported PHE’s findings, the government is negotiating with Roche to buy millions of kits.
Roche’s antibody tests have been approved in both the US and the European Union.
However, it is still unclear whether someone who has had coronavirus is then immune from it.
The finding that Roche’s tests are reliable comes as the UK gradually opens up after more than a month of lockdown.
The UK’s “roadmap” to lifting restrictions requires that the rate of infection stays low. The government has said that testing and tracing will be crucial to this. A reliable antibody test would be central to the containment effort.
Yesterday, the government announced that 494 people had died from coronavirus, taking the UK total to 33,186.
That is the worst death toll in Europe, and the second-worst in the world. The government has argued that international comparisons are not reliable until more is known about each country’s figures. However, the government itself made them until recently.