- The revelation of this failure comes at a time when the health of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in jeopardy.
- Just two weeks ago, the British government announced that it would soon be ready to send millions of kits to British homes or make them available to citizens in pharmacies.
- Several governments have also had to recall and return defective test kits.
The British government ordered millions of coronavirus antibody tests from China, but none of them were good enough. That was the assessment of Professor John Newton, a senior scientist and the head of the National Health Service (NHS). The report poured a pitcher of cold water on a government strategy for mass testing of the population, which was designed so the UK could gradually abandon home confinement.
Professor Newton told The Times:
“The test developed in China was validated against patients who were severely ill with a very large viral load, generating a large amount of antibodies… whereas we want to use the test in the context of a wider range of levels of infection including people who are quite mildly infected. So for our purposes, we need a test that performs better than some of these other tests.”
The revelation of this failure comes at a time when the health of Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who has been infected with coronavirus since March, is in jeopardy. He was hospitalized at St Thomas Hospital in London on Sunday and, after his difficult breathing on Monday, was to be transferred to the intensive care ward.
His government has been increasingly criticized for its lack of planning and the slowness with which it is conducting tests among leading health professionals. Health Minister Matt Hancock has promised to run 100,000 tests daily after Johnson himself promised to reach the figure of 250,000.
Newton led a huge national effort to accurately test for antibodies and announced the establishment of three mega-laboratories to focus on this work, in addition to the government’s collaboration with nine major laboratories, but has already warned that it can take “months” to achieve the desired result.
Just two weeks ago, the British government announced that it would soon be ready to send millions of kits to British homes or make them available to citizens in pharmacies. “This idea was based on the assumption that we could just buy existing tests, but at this point, we think it would be wrong,” Newton said.
The authorities now believe that they can cancel many of the purchase orders already issued and “collect as much as possible.” They say other countries should have returned the tests that failed by now. “The Spanish apparently returned test kits that were not working, and the Germans who are developing their own sensitive kits believe they are three months away from getting these available and validated,” said Professor John Bell, an immunologist at Oxford University who heads one of the teams that are working with the Johnson government.
Some of the kits tested showed false positives because they were carried out on people previously infected with another type of virus that generates antibodies similar to those produced by the body in response to the COVID-19. At least 8% of NHS health workers remain in isolation at home without knowing whether they are infected with the virus or not.
The government has instructed all citizens living in the same house as a person infected with the disease to go to isolation. The priority for Downing Street in the last few hours has been to accelerate the trials of the people who are currently needed on the front line to fight COVID-19.