New handheld Covid test technology could help visitors get back to care homes - how it works

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 2:53 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 2:53 pm
New handheld Covid test technology could help visitors get back to care homes - how it works (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new handheld device could provide quick and accurate Covid-19 tests, helping care homes and offices open up, experts claim.

The technology has been found to be more than 95 per cent accurate, with developers hoping regular tests will allow spaces to open up Covid-free when lockdown easing begins.

Known as a be.well test, the new device is designed to be put into use in care homes to help visitors return. The Times reports that the Government is also evaluating the device for use within the NHS or mass testing schemes.

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A ‘smoke alarm’ against outbreaks

The be.well test, and it uses loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) technology to search for fragments of the virus’s genetic material.

Because the test doesn't require the need for cycles of heating and cooling, like standard tests, the results come back within an hour.

The be.well test device is a lot more portable as it plugs a nasal swab into a cartridge the size of a hard disk.

Annop Maini, chairman of the test producers VMD Health, said that the device could be mass produced.

“We have to start to think of Covid safety more like fire safety,” he told The Times.

“This device is the equivalent of a smoke detector.

“We are in close discussion with the government and hope that they will bring this test to all schools, care homes and hospitals in the country.”

According to Maini, the tests would cost in the “low tens” of pounds, similar to lateral flow kits.

Lateral flow testing and PCR testing

The new be.well device could solve some of the issues that lateral flow tests and PCR testing for Covid have shown, bringing about ‘a best of both worlds’ solution.

PCR tests, which are used to directly detect the presence of an antigen using a swab in the nose and mouth, help to identify the virus very early one. They have been praised for their accuracy, but require hours of processing in a laboratory.

Lateral flow tests are designed to identify the presence of a specific biological marker, similar to pregnancy and some HIV tests. It doesn't require a swab, and can produce results in between five and 15 minutes. The tests have been praised for their speed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had hoped lateral flow kits would create opportunities for mass checks, with the Government ordering tens of millions of the devices. However, this approach faltered, where they have been found to miss as many as half of the positive cases.

The accuracy rate of the new plug and play technology used in be.well tests could provide the combination of speed and accuracy missing from both tests so far.

Maini is reportedly in talks with HC-One, the UK’s largest care home company, about using the tests to help with visitors returning to the homes.