Antibody tests will be available on the NHS, government says

Coronavirus antibody tests will be available on the NHS following an agreement between the government and pharmaceutical firm Roche, Downing Street has said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out further details later about a deal on the supply of the tests – which show if someone has had COVID-19 and if they have gained immunity – after negotiations were carried out.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “The tests will be free for people who need them, as you would expect.

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The tests have been hailed as a way of loosening a country-wide lockdown

“NHS and care workers will be prioritised for the tests.”

The blood tests, made by Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, were given approval by Public Health England on 14 May after scientists at its Porton Down facility found the test was “highly specific” and had an accuracy of 100%.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, last week promised the tests would be rolled out “rapidly” as the UK death toll rose to 36,000.

He cautioned it could take up to 28 days after someone is infected before the test can properly confirm if a person did have the virus.

It will “take time” to monitor how much people with antibodies have immunity from the virus and how long it could last for, he explained.

The tests were heralded by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as being a “game-changer” for lifting lockdown because someone who finds out they have antibodies can be “safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again”.

But a report prepared by the government’s top scientific advisers warned if antibody tests come into widespread use some employers might start discriminating against those who haven’t had the virus.

“This might include not permitting those testing antibody negative to return to work, or only taking on new staff with antibody positive test results,” their paper compiled in mid-April cautioned.