A new rapid test that tells users within 20 minutes whether they’ve contracted the coronavirus is being tested in the U.K.
If it’s successful, other countries including the U.S. could use the new COVID-19 LAMP assay test developed by Optigene, a U.K.-based manufacturer.
It comes just days after the Trump administration promoted a similar test made by U.S.-based pharmaceuticals giant Abbott Laboratories ABT, +0.33% as a key factor in controlling the epidemic in the U.S.
The U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration, however, later cautioned the public about the reliability of the Abbott ID NOW test, warning: “We are still evaluating the information about inaccurate results and are in direct communications with Abbott about this important issue.”
In a day of major announcements on Thursday, Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock, said he had also ordered 10 million antibody tests from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Diagnostics RO, -0.11% and Abbott.
But he warned it was too early to say whether the presence of antibodies means citizens will be immune from the virus.
Hancock said: “Innovative science has its risks — lots of projects don’t come off. But it is worth backing things before you know if they are going to work. I make no apologies for that.”
Trials of the new rapid coronavirus test returning results in 20 minutes began in Hampshire, in southern England, on Thursday.
Receiving results instantly, with no need for test samples to be sent to a laboratory to be processed, will mean people with symptoms are given immediate certainty as to whether they have the virus. This will mean they can rapidly follow advice to stay at home if they test positive, or are free to return to work.
The test has been effective in clinical settings.
Up to 4,000 people will participate in the pilot, which will run for up to six weeks. It will be led by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust. Trained health professionals will take a swab and process results on site.
Hancock said: “This new test could provide accurate results almost on the spot. This will enable health and care workers to carry on with their shift or immediately isolate on the same day, and could eventually offer the same benefit to the whole country.
“This could change the way that we control COVID-19 across the country, getting those with negative results back into society as quickly as possible.”
The separate antibody test is being prioritized for health workers. Ten million tests so far have been secured with companies including Roche and Abbott Labs, and the government said these will be rolled out over the coming months, with further agreements being negotiated with suppliers to provide millions of laboratory-based antibody tests.
Hancock said: “A positive test result for antibodies, whichever test is used, does not currently mean that the person being tested is immune to COVID-19. There is also no firm evidence that the presence of antibodies means someone cannot be reinfected with the virus or will not pass it on to someone else. If someone tests positive, they still need to follow social-distancing measures and appropriate use of PPE.”