Developing an accurate antibody test is seen as essential to helping Britain get back to work.
Scientists believe that people who produce antibodies after having coronavirus can develop immunity to catch the virus again, which allows them to return to work safely.
Dr Ron Daniels, intensive care consultant at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, says: “If you test for positive antibodies you are likely to have some degree of immunity. We don’t know for how long and how much, so you shouldn’t stop [social] distancing, but it’s best to assume that it will be partially protective for at least a few months. “
How accurate is the antibody test?
Dr Chris Hand, head of UK-RTC and chairman of Abingdon Health, revealed that the new UK-made test passed its first major clinical trial last month, involving nearly 300 people and conducted by scientists from Ulster University.
“It was found to be 98.6% accurate, and that is very good news,” Dr Hand told The Telegraph. “We had two R&D teams working day and night, seven days a week. This type of development program would normally take a year. We did it in 10 weeks.
“We are now expanding with our partners to produce hundreds of thousands of doses each month. ”
Sources in Whitehall, however, warned that scientists are still unsure whether the presence of antibodies means a person is immune to the coronavirus and can resume normal life without fear of reinfection.
What happened to the failed antibody tests?
The government had previously hoped to roll out millions of antibody tests, but supplies from China failed to pass sensitivity and specificity tests.
Ministers will attempt to recover taxpayer money spent on fingerprint tests after a University of Oxford lawsuit found they returned inaccurate results.
This failure was a significant setback as it was hoped that antibody tests would show who had already gained immunity, thus providing a faster way out of lockdown.
In April, Professor Karol Sikora, private oncologist and dean of medicine at the University of Buckingham, validated a test kit using samples from staff at his clinics, which were then verified by a private lab .
It was found that around 6% of staff had had the virus, but, more importantly, those under 40 who had tested positive came back negative, suggesting that the test may not be useful for the general population.
Siemens Healthineers, a German diagnostic and medical imaging company, also announced on April 23 that it was producing an antibody blood test to identify past coronavirus infections.