Sunday, 29 Nov 2020

Brits may have to pay for ‘moonshot’ Covid tests that let them live more freely

Pay-per-use coronavirus tests that let people take part in non-socially distanced activities are being developed, Baroness Dido Harding has said – but Brits may have to fork out for them.

Asymptomatic Brits could use them to grant temporary "Covid-19 passports" and open up the economy at greater capacity, the NHS Test and Trace chief said.

She explained many rapid self-administered tests that aren't reliable enough for NHS could by businesses with hopes they will soon deliver results in the "holy grail" of 15 minutes.

She said: "I think if you are testing symptomatic individuals then it's really important that that's an NHS service.

"Going forward, I think these more rapid turnaround, lower sensitivity and specificity tests that might well be able to tell you you are not infectious for the next few hours could potentially have uses in the future where you are testing to prove that you are negative rather than that you are positive."

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She added: "That might be a test that might enable more parts of the economy to get back to normal – I think in that environment I think that is actually more of a business and a consumer product rather than a symptomatic healthcare product.

"We are not there yet but there is a lot of research and development going into it."

Lady Harding said companies and individuals could be forced to pay for the rapid turnaround coronavirus tests as the "cost of doing business" when they become available.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), she said a reliable, self-administered Covid-19 test that can yield results in as little as 15 minutes is currently the "holy grail" of Covid-19 diagnostics.

Earlier this month, it emerged the Government is considering shelling out as much as £100 billion on a programme dubbed "Operation Moonshot" to deliver up to 10 million tests every day.

Ministers and health officials are banking on a saliva-based test that yields a reliable result without lab processing – in the same way as a pregnancy test – to help get the country back to normal.

Lady Harding said on Monday the UK was investing heavily and investing "ahead of the science" to try and speed along the process of research and development of such a test.

"I think we should be optimistic that over the course of the next few months many of these new technologies will break through, and will demonstrate that they are sufficiently sensitive and specific that they can be used in a variety of cases," she said.

She added: "They are not here yet and they are not going to solve our problems this week but we are investing heavily."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "We are investing in new, faster tests to be available to the public, for free, through NHS Test and Trace for those who need it.

"Deploying the next generation of tests, which may reduce the need for social distancing in specific circumstances, will require a collaboration between businesses, Government and the NHS. We continue to explore these options."

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