The Department of Health and Social Care is looking to Britain’s biotech industries to focus work on creating a home-testing kit that people can use to confirm they have already been exposed to – and recovered from – Covid-19, allowing them to return to work.
Health secretary Matt Hancock was due to use a call with industry leaders today to press firms for ideas on ramping up the level of testing, amid criticism of the pace of the UK’s response.
The news comes as the latest coronavirus testing figures showed a dip from 16,000 on Monday to 14,003 yesterday, less than a week after Hancock pledged that 100,000 tests would be conducted every day by the end of the month.
Around 7,500 NHS workers and their family members have so far been tested, foreign secetary Dominic Raab told Tuesday night’s Downing Street press conference.
Antibody tests that could be used at home would identify Brits who have already caught the illness and built up immunity, and who are therefore unlikely to catch it again. This would allow them to return to work – reducing the economic impact of the crisis without endangering life.
The government has already bought millions of the so-called “antibody tests”, but so far none of them have been deemed reliable enough to use on the population, prompting the health secretary’s call to the private sector.
A government source told The Times: “We have some of the finest scientific minds in the world working in different areas and we want to bring people together to deliver these tests.”
Professor John Newton, who has been asked to lead the government’s effort to hit the 100,000-a-day testing target, told the paper there were already “encouraging signs that in the UK our scientists are able to identify antigens and antibodies”, a move he said could pave the way for an “excellent test”.
He added: “There are testing manufacturers who we think could help with this, which of course would be great if we could have a home-produced test.”
This morning health minister Edward Agar insisted the government was “on target” to hit the target by the end of the month – despite a fall in the number of tests taking place.
He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: “The government’s been very clear that we’ll get to 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month.
“We are seeing rapid increases. I think the latest figures I saw were around 14,000 tests a day. That’s significantly up where it was even a few days ago, so I think we are firmly on target for that.
“My boss, Matt Hancock the health secretary, is determined that we are going to meet that target.
“He knows how important it is, he’s committed to it, as does the whole government. We are working flat out to make sure we meet that target.”