The Truth About Coronavirus Testing in the UK

I have received a lot of questions this week regarding testing for coronavirus, so thought it might be a good subject to tackle here.

At the time of writing (Monday April 6th), the UK has done 208,837 tests for coronavirus. Of those 51,608 were positive. All of these were Antigen tests.

There are two types of test for coronavirus

  1. The swab test – a swab taken from the nose and throat. This tests to see if you currently HAVE the virus
  • The finger prick test – a finger prick test to see if you have previously HAD the virus

When coronavirus first arrived in the UK, swab tests were taken from symptomatic people and their contacts. As things escalated, the tests were reserved for patients admitted to hospital with suspected Covid19 and patients in critical care.

At this stage we were doing less than 10,000 tests a day, but the government has promised to significantly increase testing to 25,000 tests a day by the end of this month and ultimately up to 100,000 tests a day.

The increased capacity for swab testing will first be offered to frontline workers, namely those working in Accident & Emergency and critical care and ambulance staff. It is then being rolled out to other key workers including GPs and their household contacts.

The tests will be offered to eligible healthcare workers, and their household contacts, who are symptomatic or who are self-isolating because a member of their household has symptoms. This is currently being set up and most of these tests will be done in drive through centres.

The antibody test is still being evaluated. The government has bought 3.5 million tests but needs to be sure that they are effective before rolling out an Ab testing programme.

A reliable Ab test would tell us who has had the disease and developed an immunity, which would in turn help us to know who would be safe to go back to work. But it is vital that we can be certain of the reliability of those tests. A bad test would be worse than no test as it could give false reassurance and allow people back out into the community, who would be vulnerable to infection and potentially spreading the virus. It is also important to remember that it can take 21 – 28 days after infection for enough antibody to be produced to be detected on a test.

Unfortunately, the tests currently being evaluated by the Office of Life Science were not as good as hoped.

I am told that some private clinics are offering testing for a fee of around £400. If this is something you are considering, please make sure which test it is that you are paying for. My concern is that if clinics are using one of the Ab tests that the Office of Life Science have found to be less than reliable, then individuals run the risk of believing they are immune, when potentially they may not be, and could be exposing themselves and those around them to increased risk of contracting the virus. There are currently NO CE approved Ab tests, so please don’t go there.

Once we have found a reliable Ab test, an Ab testing programme will be rolled out, and will likely run for months and possibly even years to allow scientists to assess the true incidence of the disease and its demographics. It will also undoubtedly play a part in how and when the government start to lift current restrictions.