UK News Unvaccinated Brits could be sent home antibody tests after government signs £124m contract for testing kits
PM under pressure to allow fully vaccinated close contacts to be exempt from isolation
Boris Johnson is facing growing pressure to allow fully vaccinated people who have been identified as close contacts of coronavirus cases to be exempt from isolation. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has joined business leaders in calling for more workers to be allowed to skip quarantine if they are alerted by the NHS COVID-19 app to prevent a staffing crisis during the so-called "pingdemic".
Unvaccinated Britons could be sent home Covid antibody tests to monitor their immunity levels after the Government signed a contract worth £124 million for test kits.
The scheme is designed to better “understand the science around immunity” as the country heads out of lockdown.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has signed a two-year contract worth £124.4 million with blood test start-up Thriva to deliver home Covid antibody tests.
The contract is more than double the value of any other Government deal for antibody test kits to date, and the first to explicitly state the kits are to be taken at home.
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Thriva was previously awarded a separate contract last August worth £61.8 million to provide lab-based antibody tests.
The latest contract is part of Government plans to boost the number of antibody tests carried out each day to around 13,000 over the next 18 months, up from a current average of around 2,500.
A DHSC spokesperson said the at-home tests would not be sent out to people who have received both doses of a Covid vaccine, but refused to rule out the possibility that they will be used to test immunity levels among the unvaccinated.
It suggests the Government could soon start offering antibody tests to, and for those that refuse to take a coronavirus vaccine.
More key workers eligible for daily testing instead of isolation
The scheme uses lateral flow tests to allow eligible workers to continue working.More key workers will be eligible for the scheme under the plans, with 1,200 new workplace sites introduced in a bid to avoid disruption to crucial services as cases soar.
People who have not yet been vaccinated may still have natural immunity against the virus from previous Covid infection.
More than 70 per cent of the UK population has now received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, including more than 80 per cent of all adults.
It comes ahead of the
The move has been met with fierce opposition from prominent Tory backbenchers and civil liberties groups, who have warned that it will create a “two-tier society” between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Antibody tests are still only available for free via the NHS for healthcare staff, adult social care workers and specific clinical groups — but not to the wider public.
It comes despite Boris Johnson promising last year that antibody tests would be “game-changing” in the route out of the pandemic.
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Just 2,500 antibody tests are currently being carried out on average every day — a mere two per cent of the total laboratory capacity to process almost 122,500 tests each day.
The Government has repeatedly attempted to launch a home antibody testing programme, but so far all efforts have stalled at their early stages.
NHS Improvements recruited consultancy firm Possibility Space last April to “put in place artifacts needed to prepare [a] service to go live for at-home antibody testing”.
It is understood that the Government’s pursuit of antibody tests was later watered down once the UK vaccine rollout was launched.
However, scientists have signalled that antibody tests may still be required until the UK achieves herd immunity against Covid from wide-scale vaccination.
Dr Raghib Ali, clinical epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, told i that antibody tests will likely become a priority for a “significant proportion of people, particularly young people, who haven’t been vaccinated but who have had natural infection”.
“They may choose not to get vaccinated, or they may not be able to get vaccinated because they have to wait,” he said. “So in the interim this could be something used in lieu of vaccination certification for people who have had natural infection, if they need to show that for events or travel.”
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Around a third of 18-30-year-olds in the UK are thought to have natural immunity from recent infection, according to Dr Ali.
Some 68.1 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 had received a first dose by 25 July, according to estimates from NHS England. It means around 32 per cent of young people are likely to be unvaccinated — the equivalent of around 2.7 million adults under the age of 30.
Dr Ali suggested that “it may be that the Government is looking towards antibody tests because it’s fairer for those groups of people”.
Antibody tests are still available through private companies for as little as £25.99.
Thriva previously offered antibody tests to customers for £59, before removing them from its website and later upping the price to £65 per test.
It initially stated its antibody tests had been approved by Public Health England, before deleting the claim from its website.
The company, which offers personalised wellness plans based on finger prick blood tests, was established less than six years ago.
Thriva was approached for comment.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “Antibody testing is an important part of our response to the pandemic. To date we have used antibody testing as part of large-scale research and surveillance studies into Covid-19, as well as offering it to some medical staff.
“We are building on our understanding of the science around immunity and continue to apply this in our response to the pandemic.”
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