The government has ordered 10m coronavirus antibody tests as new figures show 17 per cent of Londoners have already caught Covid-19.
The tests, from pharmaceutical companies Roche and Abbott’s, will first be administered to staff, residents and patients in healthcare or care home settings and will be available in the “coming months”.
Announcing the order, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s not just about the clinical advances these tests can bring, although obviously that’s important.
“It’s knowing that you have these antibodies that will help us understand more in the future if you are at lower risk of catching coronavirus, dying from coronavirus and transmitting coronavirus.”
The finger prick tests show if someone has coronavirus antibodies and therefore has already had the disease.
It has been speculated that anyone with antibodies could be immune, but this has not yet been confirmed.
Hancock said an initial antibody test study found that an estimated 17 per cent of people in London and “around five per cent or higher in the rest of the country” had contracted coronavirus at some point.
The health secretary also announced a new trial of a “rapid turnaround” swab coronavirus test which shows if you have Covid-19 at the time of testing.
A trial of the rapid tests, which give a result in 20 minutes, will begin in Hampshire immediately.
The trial will take place for six weeks, before being rolled out nationally if effective.
In a statement, Hancock said: “This new test could provide accurate results almost on the spot. This will enable health and care workers to carry on with their shift or immediately isolate on the same day, and could eventually offer the same benefit to the whole country.
“This could change the way that we control Covid-19 across the country, getting those with negative results back into society as quickly as possible.”
The rapid testing would help the government carry out its test, track and trace programme, which is due to start on 1 June.
Boris Johnson said the system would be “world beating” and will utilise 25,000 recently recruited contact tracers.
However, the rollout of the programme will happen without the NHS app that is being trialled in the Isle of Wight.
Home minister James Brokenshire said today that there was “no definitive timeline” on when the app will be rolled out nationally and that there had been issues during the trial.
Contact tracing has been used to great effect in South Korea, which has had less than 300 deaths from coronavirus.
The UK app, when launched, will allow people to alert the NHS if they have coronavirus-like symptoms.
The app will then send a message to those who have been in contact with the person displaying symptoms, with tests then administered to all those who need them and instructions to self-isolate.