MINISTERS are in talks to buy as many antibody tests as possible – and will roll them out to the NHS and frontline staff first, it was revealed today.
Last night it was confirmed that Public Health England bosses have given the green light to the first antibody test, which can tell if someone has had the virus in the past.
Experts are still divided on whether Brits can get immunity from the virus, and how long it might last.
The test was given the seal of approval by PHE’s Porton Down facility last week, and the government are now in talks to buy millions of the kits.
Roche is said to be on standby to provide hundreds of thousands of laboratory-based tests to the NHS each week.
Health minister Edward Argar said the Government wants to roll out a new “game-changer” antibody test to frontline workers first.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Argar said: “We’re in discussion at the moment with Roche on this.
“It’s only just gone through the Public Health England assessment as being reliable, as doing the job, and therefore we are having those discussions.
“But we are keen to get as many as quickly as we can and get them out, primarily to the front line first, the NHS, social care and then more widely.
“Because this really will be – as the Prime Minister said – this has the potential to be a game-changer.”
The Government thinks the tests will be instrumental in the UK lifting strict lockdown measures and allowing people to return to work – with Matt Hancock even suggesting granting “immunity passports” to those who pass the test.
Professor John Newton, the national coordinator of the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme, said: “We were confident that good quality antibody tests would become available when they were needed.
“Last week, scientific experts at PHE Porton Down carried out an independent evaluation of the new Roche SARS-CoV-2 serology assay in record time, concluding that it is a highly specific assay with specificity of 100 per cent.
“This is a very positive development, because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection.
“This in turn may indicate some immunity to future infection, although the extent to which the presence of antibodies indicates immunity remains unclear.”
Sir John Bell, Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said that it was “a major step forward” in the evolution of antibody tests.
However, he added that more work needs to be done to understand the meaning of a positive result.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “There will be further iterations of these tests because there are ways to make them better I think and we are still yet to understand what a positive result actually means.
“We’re not there yet but this is a big step in the right direction.”