UK ‘very close to breakthrough coronavirus immunity test’

A laboratory technician prepares COVID-19 patient samples for semi-automatic testing at Northwell Health Labs, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Lake Success, N.Y. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved faster testing protocols as the viral outbreak continues to spread worldwide. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A laboratory technician prepares Covid-19 patient samples for testing at Northwell Health Labs in New York. (AP)

The UK is “very close” to developing an antibodies test that will determine whether someone has had coronavirus and is now immune, according to a former government adviser.

Professor Sir Mark Walport said that the test, that would show whether someone has already had the virus and is able to safely interact with those who are infected, “has been validated’.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston show on Wednesday, Prof Walport said: “This may seem slow now but compared to the rate at which you have been able to develop a test like this for a few years, this is going at the speed at light.

“I think that diagnostics whether people have immunity… I think we are very close. I can't tell you the exact date when that is going to start but it will roll out quickly.”

The government's current chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said Public Health England's (PHE) work on the antibody test is "progressing very fast", and will provide valuable insight into the pandemic.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said development of the test was not far away.

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The prime minister said: "The great thing about having a test to see whether you've had it enough, is suddenly a green light goes on above your head and you can go back to work safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again.

"So for an economic point of view, from a social point of view, it really could be a game-changer.

"You can really see the potential of that advance, which, as I say, is coming down the track.”

Sir Patrick added: "That's progressing very fast, Public Health England are looking at this today.

"They've got a test in-house they've got going and we're looking at ways at getting the much more widespread version out.

"It is a game-changer. And the reason it's a game-changer is that it allows you to understand the proportion of the asymptomatic population – who's had this disease, but hasn't had symptoms.

"Going forward it's going to be critically important to be able to monitor this disease well because only by being able to monitor it can we start relaxing measures again."

There have now been 104 coronavirus deaths in the UK, while 2,626 have tested positive for the virus across the country.