Comment Writer Laura Bull analyses the benefits of the new COVID-19 home test kits, arguing that they are an essential aid to our fight against the virus
As the number of UK and global cases of coronavirus keeps rising, an antibody test is being developed that should revolutionise the fight against the virus. The UK Government has bought 3.5 million finger-prick antibody tests. The hope is to transform the way that the UK is responding to the coronavirus outbreak. As there will only be 3.5 million tests, initially these will be targeted at key workers. In future, more should become available and the general public should have greater access to them. The antibody tests could be available ‘within a matter of days’ from Amazon and Boots. The UK is not the only country ordering tests, with many across the globe doing the same, so subsequently worldwide demand is precipitating a shortage.
The antibody tests are set to transform the way people are tested, as it can identify if someone has had coronavirus and recovered. The current test using swabs can only detect if someone presently has the virus. It is widely believed that after having coronavirus people develop immunity to any reinfection. Not only that, the new antibody tests are highly practical, only taking about 15 minutes for results, as opposed to swab tests which take much longer. The antibody test works by obtaining blood by a finger prick, and then analysing it for coronavirus antibodies to understand whether the person has gained an immunity after recovering. Testing is undertaken to firstly diagnose the individual person and to also understand the spread of the virus to better combat it. The test will be particularly important for NHS staff so they can understand if they have been infected and recovered, meaning that they can go back to work. As it stands, only patients in hospitals are being tested for coronavirus. About 10,000 people are tested a day and the government is aiming to increase this to 25,000 a day within the next few weeks.
Part of responding to the challenge of moving from lockdown to ‘normal life’, whilst still keeping cases low, is the antibody tests. By increasing the number of tests available, more NHS staff can go back to work when they are immune to help combat the virus. This will be crucial until a vaccine can be found. It will also give a more accurate understanding of how many cases there are and have been to better comprehend the virus.
There has been some discrepancy as to when the antibody tests will be made available, ranging from days to weeks. The government’s medical and scientific advisors have said that it is vitally important that the tests are accurate and that it is a top priority to ensure this. This will be key before they can be made available for the public. However, the government has also said that they will make them accessible as soon as possible.
It is possible to buy a private test; however Public Health England advises against it, saying there is not enough information yet about them. They claim that there is insufficient understanding about whether the positive or negative result is accurate. The costs are also astronomical, with one private healthcare clinic in London charging £375 for an individual test. It is not known how much the antibody tests ordered by the government will cost; however, it will clearly be in the public interest to have them affordable for everyone.
I believe home test kits should be focused on as they are a crucial element in the fight against coronavirus. We are already late in the game compared to other countries such as South Korea who seem to be leading the way in getting on top of the virus. Most importantly, NHS staff and key workers would be able to go back to work if they knew they had had and recovered from the virus. Not only that, but the impact on the economy would be great. If people can go back to work more quickly, providing it is safe, then the economy can recover faster, improving people’s lives. What is more, social distancing and working from home may not have to last as long as expected, which would also improve mental health and well-being. The impact of readily available and accessible coronavirus home test kits will be far reaching for NHS staff, key workers and the country as a whole, and may well be the game-changer we urgently need to get us back on the path to recovery, whilst we need to patiently wait for the ultimate breakthrough an effective vaccine can provide.