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A coronavirus antibody test hailed as a “game changer” in the UK’s response to the pandemic will be “rapidly rolled out” in the “days and weeks to come”, a top UK public health official has said.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said the tests, deemed 100% accurate by Public Health England, would first be given to NHS staff and carers.
It comes after Number 10 confirmed the serology tests, being produced by Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, would “certainly” be available on the NHS and that the government was in advanced talks with the firm.
Different to tests which check for the presence of the virus, the antibody test can detect if a person has ever had the disease.
It could pave the way for people to be issued with “health certificates”, which would prove they have had the virus.
People with such documents may be able to enjoy greater freedoms as the lockdown is eased, according to a report in the Telegraph.
Speaking at the Downing Street Covid-19 briefing on Thursday, Van-Tam said that he expected the tests would be “rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come as soon as it is practical to do so”.
He said scientists still needed to discover whether antibodies offered immunity and for how long they persisted.
“But the good news is we do now have antibody tests that we absolutely can rely on,” he said.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said if antibodies provide immunity it would be “game changing because it would enable us to do things in terms of releasing lockdowns that wouldn’t be possible otherwise”.
It came as 428 people who tested positive for Covid-19 had died, bringing the working total of UK deaths to 33,614.
A new study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), meanwhile, said an estimated 148,000 people in England outside hospitals and care homes had coronavirus between April 27 and May 10.
Fears for the economy, meanwhile, were mounting after the ONS revealed the economy shrank by 5.8% in March and 2% in the last quarter - the biggest dip since the 2008 financial crash.
Boris Johnson earlier this week took the first steps towards easing the lockdown as he encouraged people who could not work remotely to return to the workplace.