A ‘GAME changer’ blood test that shows whether someone has already had coronavirus is on its way to Britain after being approved for use.
The antibody test was found to be 100 per cent accurate by experts at the Porton Down lab in Wiltshire. Made by Swiss giant Roche, it can reliably tell Covid-19 and other viruses apart.
The new weapon, which Bavarian PM Markus Söder unveiled at Roche’s research hub in the German region on May 4, will be used mainly on front-line health workers to start with.
One major benefit will be to increase understanding of how widely the virus has spread by identifying those who have had it, whether or not they have shown symptoms.
The other factor is that people who have recovered are likely to have at least a reduced chance of becoming re-infected or passing the virus on.
Knowledge of potential immunity would be particularly useful for NHS staff treating vulnerable patients.
And the idea of issuing immunity certificates that let people get back to work more quickly as the lockdown is eased has been considered by No.10.
After Boris Johnson previously said an antibody test would change the game, health minister Edward Argar said yesterday of the Roche product: ‘We are keen to get as many as quickly as we can and get them out, primarily to the front line first, the NHS, social care and then more widely.
‘Because this really will be — as the prime minister said — this has the potential to be a game changer.’
The official virus death toll, of fatalities in all care settings where infection has been confirmed, rose by another 428 to 33,614 yesterday.
The daily number of conventional tests carried out — to discover if people are currently infected — shot up above the 100,000 target to 126,064.
The antibody test given the green light by Public Health England will be ‘rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come, as soon as it is practical to do so’, England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said at last night’s Downing Street briefing.
It is not a DIY kit but results can be obtained in as little as 18 minutes through lab analysis.
Prof John Newton, from the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme, said the PHE decision was a ‘very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection’.
‘This in turn may indicate some immunity to future infection, although the extent to which the presence of antibodies indicates immunity remains unclear,’ he added.
Meanwhile, UK experts hope to be able to reveal next month if a vaccine against the virus works or not.
Hundreds of people have been given the jab in trials and researchers are waiting to see if any become infected, said Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford university.
Sir John said if the vaccine won approval, drugs giant AstraZeneca stood ready to help manufacture it on a massive scale.
The vaccine showed promising signs when tested in a small group of monkeys, with some developing antibodies within 14 days of being injected.