None of the 17.5 million antibody tests ordered by the British government to fight the coronavirus pandemic are working properly, it has been revealed.
According to the Financial Times, the ministers hoped that the tests – which aim to show whether someone has already contracted the virus and could be immunized – would give a clearer picture of the number of people actually infected.
This could have paved the way for a gradual relaxation of locking restrictions.
Researchers at the University of Oxford, who worked to evaluate the tests, said that all of them were unreliable.
Professor John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the university (photo), wrote: “Unfortunately, the tests we have reviewed so far have not worked.
“We see a lot of false negatives (tests where no antibody is detected despite the fact that we know it is there) and we also see false positives.
“None of the tests we validated would meet the criteria for a good test, as agreed with the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency.
“This is not a good result for the test providers or for us. “
The government is working with nine companies that have developed antibody tests, but their failure indicates that the UK may still be far from being able to launch a mass screening program.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who announced a tentative order for 17.5 million tests last week, added, “We will only use them if they work. “
Downing Street said that “no test has so far been good enough to be used.”
Government guidelines for its test plans suggest that if the antibody tests “do not work, no further tests will be purchased and, if possible, orders will be canceled.”
It was hoped that home test kits could be deployed, even though doctors believed it would not have been appropriate.
Many test kits already on the market claim high accuracy rates, but since they were developed in a matter of months, many of their claims are based on relatively small samples.
The devices must – to be classified as accurate – be able to show the presence in a person’s blood of antibodies specific to the coronavirus, as well as to identify the antibodies in people who have had milder strains of the disease .
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the FT: “One of the problems with this type of work is that you can jump too fast.
“When you don’t have enough samples, you can be misled: 100 tests may sound good, but after 20,000 they may not be.”
“The government will work with new and old suppliers to try to achieve this result so that we can step up antibody testing for the British public.
He added, “It will take at least a month. “
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