Government admits millions of antibody tests won’t be used because they aren’t good enough

PUBLISHED: 11:05 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:05 06 April 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS staff stand on marks on the ground, put in place to ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and NHS staff stand on marks on the ground, put in place to ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Millions of coronavirus antibody testing kits ordered by the government will not be used because experts say they are not good enough.

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The tests, which reveal whether someone has recovered from the disease, should be able to indicate how many have had the virus and recovered.

But Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, had admitted that the antibody tests brought by the government so far are “not good enough to be rolling out in a very large scale”.

He told the Times that although they can identify those who have been severely ill, it cannot prove those that have had the mild strain.

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“The test developed in China was validated against patients who were severely ill with a very large viral load, generating a large amount of antibodies... whereas we want to use the test in the context of a wider range of levels of infection including people who are quite mildly infected. So for our purposes, we need a test that performs better than some of these other tests.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock admitted that there are no immediate plans to roll out the testing until they find the right kit.

He said: “We’re getting the test results through every day, I was looking at some last night. But we still don’t have any that are good enough.”

Previously there had been a belief that the home testing kits could be ready in days, but Professor Newton said “the idea that we might have it in days was based on the fact that we might just buy the existing test, and at the moment the judgment is that that wouldn’t be the best thing to do. It would be better to try and improve the test”.

But he added: “The scientists in Oxford who have been evaluating them are working with manufacturers to say, ‘We’ve tested your test, and it doesn’t seem to perform quite well enough, but we think we can work with you to improve it.’ So it is a little bit uncertain but there are commercial partners able to work with us. I’m optimistic.”

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