Britain received a blow to its hopes of mass-testing the population as local media revealed on Wednesday that millions of self-testing kits ordered by the government do not work.
The government had ordered 17.5 million home-testing kits, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying at the time that they were a “game changer.”
But local media quoted scientists saying that these tests could fail to detect up to half of all coronavirus cases.
The antibody self-testing kits rely on analysing just a prick of blood from a finger, and were to be able to provide results in around 15-20 minutes.
They were to be available in pharmacies such as Boots, and online retailers such as Amazon.
The kits were central to British plans to ease the lockdown, as they would be able to show who already had the illness, recovered, and therefore has potential immunity.
The test was planned to be rolled out to frontline key workers, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and police officers, so that they could return to work.
None of the tests will now go on the market.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC: “We're getting the test results through every day. I was looking at some last night. But we still don't have any that are good enough.”
Dr David Ho, a specialist in infectious diseases at Columbia University, told The Guardian: “The problem is after a couple of weeks, the detection rate remains at about 50%-60%, especially in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases.”
This is despite some kits on the market claiming an accuracy rate of 90%.
Another expert, Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told Financial Times: “One of the problems in this sort of work is that you can jump too quickly. When you don’t have enough samples you can be misled: 100 tests might look good, but after 20,000 they might not. The Government will be working with suppliers both new and old to try and deliver this result so we can scale up antibody testing for the British public. This will take at least a month.”
The government is looking for a refund on the testing kits they ordered, according to Telegraph.
In the absence of rapid home-testing, the government currently uses swab testing, but this must be carried out by medical professionals and takes much longer to receive a result.
The mass testing that is taking place in South Korea and Germany is swab-testing, and public debate in the U.K. has been dominated by lack of similar mass testing, with critics of the government pointing to Seoul and Berlin as example that it can be done, with or without home-testing kits.
British health authorities announced yesterday that the U.K.-wide death toll from coronavirus increased by 786 in 24 hours, the biggest rise on record.
The Department of Health reported: “213,181 people have been tested of which 55,242 tested positive.”
The death toll in the country has climbed to 6,159.
After appearing in China last December, the novel coronavirus has spread to at least 184 countries and regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Over 1.43 million cases have been reported worldwide, with Europe being the worst-hit continent.
The global death toll is over 82,000 and more than 301,000 people have recovered around the world so far.
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