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Independents' Day

Hancock: GPs will be able to find out if they have had coronavirus 'very soon'

GPs and other frontline NHS staff will be able to find out if they have had coronavirus, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The Government has ordered 3.5 million antibody tests for Covid-19 which ‘will allow people to see whether they have had the virus and are immune to it and can go back to work’, he said during yesterday’s daily Government briefing.

Mr Hancock said the antibody tests would be available ‘very soon’. But the precise timing of the arrival of the tests, which would tell people whether they had been infected with the virus at some point, is unclear.

He also announced that a new testing facility has opened in Milton Keynes as part of plans to rapidly increase the number of tests being done.

Speaking to MPs on the science and technology select committee, Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England said an antibody test would be ready in days rather than weeks.

She said that work was being done in Oxford this week on the validity of the tests before being rolled out to the public online or through pharmacies.

Initially there would likely be prioritisation of who could get the tests, she added.

It follows a previous announcement by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty on the 16 March that the government was scaling up testing for healthcare workers.

So far 90,436 people in the UK had been tested for coronavirus – at a current rate of between 5,000 and 6,000 a day – and the tests are only being done routinely in people in hospital.

GPs have shared frustations about being unable to access Covid-19 testing when they have symptoms with increasing numbers of primary care staff off self-isolating for up to two weeks.

More than 1,200 GPs signed a letter, published in The Times, calling for symptomatic NHS staff working in primary care to be tested for coronavirus.

Tuesday (24 March) saw a further 87 deaths from coronavirus bringing the total to 422.

Mr Hancock also announced that the ExCeL centre in London will be turned into a makeshift emergency hospital from next week initially taking 500 patients but moving to a capacity of 4,000 by early April.

In response to testing plans, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘We have repeatedly called for the Government to ramp up testing over a number of weeks.

‘We need urgent clarification from ministers about what their testing plan is and why action appears to have been taken so late.’

Note: This article was updated at 14.35 on 25 March to reflect new information from the science and technology select committee.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Define "soon". Are you talking about a geological timescale Mr Hancock ?

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  • community testing only for professional footballers and royal family at present.

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  • I’m over 60, with a 3x mortality risk than the decade below me and fortunately not contracted to a practice at the movement.
    I think there’s a very good chance that that weird illness I had a month ago was Covid-19 but without serological reassurance, I’m not going to risk catching SARS-COV-2, passing it to my closest, or declining to see that patient F2F who turns out to have an illness that could have been diagnosed had I done so and being hung out to dry by the GMC et al.
    The legacy of poor Dr Baba Gowa casts a very long shadow...

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  • It is amazing how racing drivers, film stars, royalty, no doubt politicians and footballers seem to have immediate access to tests. Those pesky clinicians just complain with their paper masks and "promises" from Westminster. I guess our menial lives would be completely worthless without our superiors being able to tell us to not panic, thank God they're feeling better from the safety of their mansions and boltholes.

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  • Apart from the time frame the altruistic government are no doubt hoping lots of us are +ve (ie already had infection) as we can forget about that pesky PPE and work with impunity!

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  • So if you test positive for IgG there’s a presumptive that provides 100% natural immunity....is there a definitive evidence base for that with this particular virus?

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  • is the army going to be deployed to prevent non nhs persons from accessing the test so there is none left for the actual nhs workers on the front line? cause having to hide your nhs badges so they don't get stolen is the latest craze out here. some people just can't enough free coffee it seems.

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  • I read today that Iceland has the highest world population percentage of Corona virus in its 2/3 million population because it is doing the testing. The article says that they are also looking hard at the genetics and have found 40 mutations including 1 person apparently infected with 2 separate mutations at the same time. So does infection confer immunity and will vaccination work?

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  • Too slow. The public health containment is a joke. Other countries are testing even visitors etc, calling them twice a day and mobile tracking them.

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  • If an antibody test is available, it should NOT be rolled out to the public on-line or inpharmacies - it would be misused. If there are only 3.5 million, they MUST be restricted to essential and health-care workers.

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