Everything you need to know about the UK coronavirus test kits under evaluation - and when they could be available
The UK's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said during the government’s daily coronavirus press briefing on 25 March that there was a "global bottle neck" on buying more testing kits.
Speaking at a press conference, he said it was the Government's aim to be able to buy tests that would allow NHS workers to go back to work if they test negative for coronavirus.
At the moment, to test for coronavirus a swab is taken and the results are run through a machine in a lab to test for the virus’s genetic material.
However, scientists are now working towards a quicker, more efficient testing method that could be done at home.
Here’s what you need to know about the test kits being developed - and who may be able to access it.
How would a coronavirus test work?
The new test being developed would check to see if a person has detectable antibodies in their blood, which would mean that they have been exposed to the virus.
The kit itself would look similar to a pregnancy test and would work by taking a drop of blood from a prick on your fingertip, which is then analysed for antibodies.
It would be able to detect the presence of IGM, an antibody that appears in your body early on in the infection, and IGG, which increases when the body responds to the virus.
It's hoped that the results would be able to be read by anyone, while some might need to be interpreted by a healthcare professional.
How could a test kit help fight coronavirus?
In a previous briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that these types of tests could be a “game changer” in regards to the ongoing pandemic.
Speaking to the Huffington Post, Professor Trudie Lang, director of the Global Health Network, University of Oxford, said that these types of tests would be “transformational” in the fight against the virus.
She said: “We can make sure we’ve got doctors or nurses who can work safely in hospitals. People wouldn't have to isolate unnecessarily at home for 14 days, because you’ll be able to tell very quickly if people have cleared it or not.”
Currently, only patients who have been admitted to hospital are being routinely tested for the virus.
When could the tests be available?
Today (Wednesday 25 March), Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the national infection service at Public Health England (PHE) told the Science and Technology Committee that 3.5 million of these tests have been purchased, and would be available in the “near future”.
Before the tests are made available, they will first need to be validated in Oxford, to confirm that they are working as expected - this validation should reportedly happen this week.
Once this has happened, they may be made available to test healthcare workers, as well as the general public.
Peacock said: “Several million tests have been purchased for use. These are brand new products.
“We have to be clear they work as they claimed to do.”
When asked if they would be made available in days, rather than weeks or months, Peacock said: “Yes, absolutely.”
Speaking at Boris Johnson’s daily coronavirus briefing on 25 March, Chris Whitty stated: "The key thing now is to evaluate, are these tests accurate enough to be used by the general public. if they are accurate we'll release them, if they aren't accurate we won't.”
How will they be distributed?
If and when the government approves the test kits, online retail giant Amazon and pharmacies such as Boots may distribute them, however this has not yet been confirmed.
How much will they cost?
It’s unclear if there will be a charge for the kits yet, but Sharon Peacock of PHE said she thought that if there is a charge, that it would be minimal.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.For more information on government advice, please check their website.
Should I avoid public places?
You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.
When to call NHS 111
Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.