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A government coronavirus antibody test study has revealed 17% of people in London and 5% of people outside the capital have already had the illness.
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced the figures at the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday.
He said: “This has told us that around 17% of people in London and around 5% or higher in the rest of the country have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.”
He also officially confirmed that the government has signed contracts with two private companies to supply 10 million antibody tests.
The roll-out of the tests will start with health and care staff, patients and residents from next week, he said.
“We’ve signed contracts to supply in the coming months over 10 million tests from Roche and Abbott,” he said.
“From next week we will begin rolling these out in a phased way, at first to health and care staff, patients and residents.
“The UK government has arranged supplies of these tests on behalf of the devolved administrations and each devolved nation is deciding how to use its test allocation and how testing will be prioritised and managed locally.
“This is an important milestone and it represents further progress in our national testing programme.”
It comes as Boris Johnson’s government was under intense pressure over its treatment of migrant health workers on the Covid-19 front line, with ministers performing two U-turns on policy in as many days.
After heavy criticism, Downing Street announced that NHS fees being charged to migrant health and care workers on the coronavirus front line would be scrapped “as soon as possible”.
The government was due to hike the immigration health surcharge from £400 to £624 this October, but now says it will be scrapped as the Covid-19 crisis grips the NHS.
The sum had been payable to all overseas workers to use the NHS and from this autumn would have seen a family-of-four hit with a bill as high as £2,500 a year.
Labour leader Keir Starmer called the U-turn a “victory for common decency”.
Home secretary Priti Patel also bowed to pressure to extend the NHS bereavement scheme to include low-paid health and care staff, such as cleaners, porters and social care workers on Wednesday.
Their families will now be extended indefinite leave to remain if their loved one has died after contracting coronavirus. Previously, they would have faced the threat of deportation.