The Government has set a goal for 100,000 coronavirus tests a day in England by the end of the month in the face of pressure to increase capacity.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was quizzed on the pledge in a round of interviews on Friday morning.
– What will the 100,000 tests a day be made up of?
Mr Hancock said during Thursday’s press conference that the figure includes antigen tests that tell people whether they currently have Covid-19, as well as antibody tests to see whether people have previously had the infection.
But on Friday he said no antibody tests have yet been “pencilled in” because “we so far haven’t found one that works”.
So, for now it is likely most of the target will comprise the diagnostic swab tests, showing people if they currently have the virus.
– Do we know any more about the work being done to find a good antibody test?
A version has yet to be approved for use in the UK but several are undergoing rigorous testing.
Mr Hancock has stressed the importance of only approving testing they know is going to work properly.
He described it as “frustrating” that none have worked, explaining: “Essentially, a really good home test has not been invented yet.”
He said “a lot” of the tests being looked at are being bought in from China and the Government is supporting companies in the UK to try and improve domestic production. He pledged “money is no object” and the Government is giving “every possible support to those who can expand testing”.
– How will tests be distributed?
The Government is working in partnership with universities and companies including Amazon and Boots to build a network of new testing sites “from scratch” across the country.
Amazon said it was “proud” to help by teaming up alongside Royal Mail to deliver test kits to critical workers and special test sites across the country as a free service.
– How many tests are being done now?
Around 10,000 tests are being done a day at this point, so the Government’s goal of 10 times that number is a big one.
Mr Hancock said there are currently about 8,000 patients a day who need to be tested for Covid-19.
He said about 1,500 frontline healthcare staff are being tested daily since centres opened in recent days, and he insisted that number is “ramping up fast”.
Some 35,000 front-line NHS staff are currently off work due to coronavirus, he said.
– Is someone immune if they’ve had Covid-19 and recovered?
Mr Hancock returned to work on Thursday, exactly a week after he said he began to go “downhill” with symptoms of the virus.
He said he is continuing to follow social distancing guidance, having been advised that while he is “highly likely” to now be immune, it’s “not certain”.
He said the newness of the illness means it is currently “impossible” to know how long any immunity might last.
He has suggested the UK might start issuing “immunity certificates” for people who have recovered and are trying to get back to normal life, once the science is clearer on the subject.
– What are the scientists saying about testing?
Quite simply – we are ready, but you need to give us what we need.
The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) said the UK’s lack of testing strategy early on “put us on the back foot regarding supply chains and global demand”.
Speaking on behalf of biomedical scientists and laboratory staff of the NHS, the institute said: “The UK has numerous high-quality accredited laboratories with suitable equipment, with the capability to test over 100,000 tests per day, set up and ready to meet testing targets – we just need a reliable supply of test kits, plastics and reagents.”
They urged caution and stressed the importance of making sure the supply chain is secured, as testing is ramped up, warning of the “very real risk” that hospitals and pathology networks could run out of the chemical reagents needed for the tests.