THE UK has millions of antibody tests against coronaviruses – but none of them are good enough to use, the new test manager admitted.
The government has ordered 17.5 million kits of antibodies – which would tell patients with a finger prick blood test if they have ever had the virus and recovered.
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However, Professor John Newton said that all of the coronavirus tests had failed the assessments and “are not good enough to be implemented on a very large scale”.
He said antibody tests purchased from China can only accurately identify immunity in critically ill people.
This comes after the UK has been criticized for being slow to test compared to other countries – the government has failed to hit its 10,000 swab tests per day for most of March.
Professor Newton of Public Health England, who was appointed to supervise the tests last week, said: “The test developed in China has been validated against critically ill patients with a very large viral load, generating a large amount of ‘antibody …
“So we want to use the test in the context of a wider range of infection levels, including people who are fairly mildly infected.
“So for our purposes, we need a test that works better than some of these other tests. “
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Despite this, government scientists hope to work with companies to improve the performance of the antibody tests they currently have – and Professor Newton said he was “optimistic”, one of the antibody tests would achieve in the coming months.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted on Friday that the government still does not have a reliable antibody kit it can use – despite promises to step up testing by the end of the month.
He said that several of the antibody kits failed the precision tests – with three out of four positive results missed.
Hancock told BBC Radio 4: “I think the antibody test, the blood test, at the moment we don’t have a reliable home test.
“If we can get one, it can be easily replicated and we can get even higher figures, much higher figures. “
He responded to criticism of the failure to increase checks fairly quickly by promising to use private labs and perform 100,000 tests daily this month.
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The NHS is currently using separate antigen or swab tests in hospitals to determine if a person is currently infected with Covid-19.
Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including the coronavirus. Antigen testing can determine if a person is currently a carrier of the virus and is actively infectious.
The government is still looking for commercial antibody tests, but has agreed to roll out in months.
Officials previously talked about sending millions of home test kits in a few days, but Professor Newton said, “The idea that we could have it in a few days was based on the fact that we could just buy the existing test, and at the moment, the judgment is that it wouldn’t be the best thing to do.
“It would be better to try to improve the test. “
Coronavirus test: What is the difference between antigen and antibody tests?
Coronavirus testing is essential to gain a better idea of and control the scale of the epidemic in the UK.
In recent days, much has been said about the two different types of tests that the government is implementing.
The government calls them the “do you have” antigen test or the “did you have” antibody test.
Here we explain the difference between the two …
What is an antigen test?
Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including the coronavirus.
Antigen testing can determine if a person is currently a carrier of the virus and is actively infectious.
The NHS is currently using antigen tests in hospitals to determine if a person is currently infected with Covid-19.
Samples are taken using a cotton swab – which looks like a large cotton swab – from the depths of the nose and throat before being sent to the laboratory for testing.
Most laboratories use a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours to obtain a result.
Labs can take days to run tests and communicate results to users.
Several companies are working on ways to speed up this type of testing.
What is an antibody test?
When a person is infected with an antigen, the body begins to make specially designed proteins called antibodies in response – as a way to fight the infection.
After recovering, these antibodies float in the blood for months or even years.
This is how the body defends itself in case it becomes infected with the virus again.
So an antibody test specifically looks for antibodies that will be able to tell if you’ve ever been exposed to Covid-19.
Anyone who has ever had the disease is presumed to be immune to recurrence – at least in the medium term.
This would allow them to return to work safely, knowing that they are unlikely to be infected again or to spread the virus.
The control that was developed for Covid-19 is a finger prick blood test, with the samples sent to the laboratories and the results available within a few days.
General practitioner and resident physician on Good Morning Britain, Dr. Hilary Jones, said that it works “almost like a pregnancy test, except that you need a drop of blood.”
These tests are developed by several different companies and Public Health England (PHE) is also working on its own test.
They still need to be validated to ensure they give accurate results.
He told The Times, “The Oxford scientists who evaluated them are working with manufacturers to say,” We have tested your test, and it doesn’t seem to work well enough, but we think we can work with you. to improve it.
“So it’s a bit uncertain, but there are business partners who can work with us. I’m optimistic. “
Despite this, Dame Deirdre Hine, the public health expert who chaired an official journal criticizing modeling failures during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, said it was “hard to understand” why the government didn’t hadn’t planned any other tests.
Less than a third of doctors with symptoms of Covid-19 are able to get tested for the disease, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).
He also revealed that one in five did not have the personal protective equipment (PPE) he needed to safely treat Covid-19 patients.
RCP President Andrew Goddard said that the results of the survey of 2,513 participants were “a vivid indication of the incredibly difficult situation facing our members working in the NHS.”
Matt Hancock told Sky News yesterday that eight percent of front line NHS workers are self-isolating and not working.
However, the RCP survey suggested that this figure could reach 14%.
Many of these unemployed people are considered isolated due to a symptomatic member of their household.
The death toll stands at 5,413 and 439 deaths in the UK
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The survey found that almost nine out of ten doctors could not access the Covid-19 test for a person under these circumstances.
Professor Goddard added, “The government’s current strategy to provide tests that would help NHS staff return to the workforce as quickly as possible clearly does not work. “
He urged the government to publish its plan, timetable and the challenges it expected.