Government orders 10m antibody tests for frontline staff

Tests hailed as “game-changing” in the fight against coronavirus will be rolled out to frontline staff starting from next week as Yorkshire was identified as one area preparing for local measures to tackle a potential second wave of the virus.

Thursday, 21st May 2020, 8:26 pm

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today that the Government had agreed a deal with pharmaceutical firms Roche and Abbott for more than 10m antibody tests, which will first be rolled out to health and social care staff as well as patients and care home residents.

It remains unclear what level of immunity people develop once they have had Covid-19, but experts hope a degree of immunity lasts for at least a year or two.

Mr Hancock said: “This is an important milestone and it represents further progress in our national testing programme.”

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: PA

Data gathered from an antibody surveillance study led by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests 17 per cent of people in London and around five per cent in England have tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus.

It comes after it was reported that Leeds would be one of 10 areas where plans were being developed to cope with a potential resurgence of the disease.

It is understood the pilots would not be of the full track and trace system but instead the local support that would be needed should there be a spike in cases in specific areas.

The Government has previously said that an outbreak in a particular area could lead to lockdown measures being imposed on a stricter basis in different regions.

Mr Hancock also announced a trial of a rapid 20-minute test to tell people if they currently have Covid-19 following criticisms that people have been waiting days or weeks for test results.

A&E departments, GP testing hubs and care homes in Hampshire will all trial the new test, which will be used on up to 4,000 people.

He also said for those who had developed antibodies, certification systems will be developed.

Mr Hancock told the daily Downing Street briefing: “It’s not just about the clinical advances that these tests can bring.

“It’s that knowing that you have these antibodies will help us to understand more in the future if you are at lower risk of catching coronavirus, of dying from coronavirus and of transmitting coronavirus.

“We’re developing this critical science to know the impact of a positive antibody test and to develop the systems of certification to ensure people who have positive antibodies can be given assurances of what they can safely do.”

A further 338 deaths were recorded today in those who had tested positive for coronavirus, with 27 in Yorkshire.

It brings the national death toll to 36,042, 2,356 in Yorkshire.

But England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty told the briefing the total number of deaths from all causes was now down to the rate in an average winter.

Prof Whitty also said care home deaths have peaked and have now come down.

Meanwhile Mr Hancock sought to play down the importance of the delayed app in the contact tracing process.

He had originally said the app would be rolled out by mid-May but it has now been delayed by several weeks.

The Government is aiming for 25,000 human contact tracers to be in place for June 1.

Mr Hancock said: “The technology is an important part, but it is not the only part.”

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