A private healthcare firm has unveiled a new low-cost Covid-19 test that it says could help get Brits back to work safely, though scientists have warned more development is needed.
The finger-prick test returns results in 10 minutes and is priced from just £10. As well as checking for a Covid-19 infection, it can detect the presence of antibodies, which indicate a previous infection.
The testing service, launched by digital health firm PocDoc, also provides an app allowing employers to track the health of their workforce.
Each test provides the individual with a unique QR code that enables HR departments to collate the status of employees and determine whether it is safe for staff members to return to the office.
The cut-price tests, which are manufactured in the UK and have a 98 per cent accuracy rate, could provide an alternative to pricey private services and government-issued tests, which can take several days to return results and have suffered from long waiting times in some parts of the country.
However, scientists raised doubts about how helpful the tests are for employers due to their focus on antibodies.
Covid-19 antibodies are not produced until between five and 15 days after an infection, while people are infective before they develop symptoms and have no antibodies at that stage.
Mike Lewis, professor of life science and innovation at the University of Birmingham, told City A.M. that a focus on antigen tests — which show the presence of the virus itself — was crucial.
“The only way to get people back to work is an antigen test that is inexpensive, quick and can detect asymptomatic people.”
Lewis said that LAMP tests — such as those currently being trialled at Heathrow — were most likely to help the back to work push.
PocDoc said it has written to the government to ministers about a nationwide rollout of its tests and has offered to share its results data with Public Health England.
The service has already been trialled at restaurants, gyms and some offices, and the company is now in discussions with airports, airlines and live events.
“Everyone is aware of the extent of the testing problem and we believe we have found a solution — just register on the website and we will arrange to come round and test your teams,” said Steve Roest, PocDoc founder and chief executive.
“We are also encouraging the government to take up our offer to use our service and we hope that public health bodies will take up our offer to share our data to help the national effort.”
Heathrow Airport’s new tests, which will initially be offered to passengers flying to Hong Kong, cost £80 and guarantee results within one hour.
Testing has proved a key sticking point in the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis, with the government’s test and trace programme coming under fierce scrutiny.
The prospect of a new rapid turnaround Covid-19 test would be a major boost for businesses, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly viewing an improved testing system as an alternative to a second national lockdown.