/Coronavirus UK: Government to send testing kits to 20k homes

Coronavirus UK: Government to send testing kits to 20k homes

Health chiefs have finally launched a mass coronavirus antibody surveillance study to trace how far the killer disease has already spread in Britain.

A thousand households will have their blood samples taken every month by a nurse or trained medic, the Department of Health last night announced.

Antibodies are substances made by the immune system in response to an infection and can be picked-up by just a finger-prick of blood. 

Ministers have not announced which company manufactures the test. Scientists at Oxford University will analyse the samples – but patients will not get the results. 

Britain’s scheme is dwarfed in comparison to the programme in the Italian region of Lombardy, which is screening 20,000 blood samples each day. 

A separate scheme in the US will involve 40,000 healthcare workers, while Andorra has ordered enough antibody kits to test its population twice. 

Officials have also now begun a separate mass swab testing scheme, with 20,000 homes being contacted to take part in the first wave of the study.  

Participants will provide nose and throat samples every week until the end of May to help experts understand the rate of infection in the UK. 

Swab tests can only tell if someone is currently infected. They do not look for signs of past infection, like antibody tests.  

The Department of Health revealed up to 300,000 people are expected to take part in the swab testing scheme within the first year.  

A technician scanning test tubes containing live samples during the opening of the new COVID-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Wednesday

A technician scanning test tubes containing live samples during the opening of the new COVID-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Wednesday

A technician scanning test tubes containing live samples during the opening of the new COVID-19 testing lab at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Wednesday 

HOW WILL THE ANTIBODY TESTING SCHEME BE CARRIED OUT? 

A thousand households will have their blood samples taken every month by a trained medic, the Department of Health last night announced.

Nurses from the private firm IQVIA will carry out the antibody tests, to reduce the burden on NHS resources and personnel. 

Antibodies are substances made by the immune system in response to an infection and can be picked-up by just a finger-prick of blood. 

Ministers have not announced which company manufactures the test – but the results will be analysed by scientists at Oxford University. 

A letter seen by the Press Association news agency says those participating in the antibody testing scheme will not receive their results. 

Britain’s scheme is dwarfed by the programme in the Italian region of Lombardy, which is screening 20,000 blood samples each day. 

A separate scheme in the US involves 40,000 healthcare workers, while Andorra has ordered enough antibody kits to test its population twice. 

Health chiefs have yet to approve an antibody test for mass use, despite promises one would be available to buy from Amazon or Boots weeks ago. 

But officials claim the home tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, saying they range from between 50 and 70 per cent. 

Ministers announced plans to enrol up to 20,000 people to carry out the immunity tests earlier this month, in its ‘Pillar 4’ plan.

It is unclear when the scheme will be increased in size, or if officials have opted to carry out a smaller surveillance study. 

As well as the separate study, Public Health England has been analysing blood tests for antibodies since the beginning of April.

Officials said they were expanding the programme during April ‘so that we have the potential to test around 5,000 samples per week’.

But with just a week until May, figures show fewer than 5,000 samples – including 51 on Tuesday – have been analysed at the Porton Down lab.

The Department of Health is funding the study, which is being carried out alongside the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Officials said participants will form a representative sample of the UK population by age and geography, with initial findings expected in early May. 

Participants are being selected from the tens of thousands of Brits who have already taken part in other ONS surveys. 

Those selected will provide samples from self-administered nose and throat swabs and answer questions during a home visit by a trained healthcare professional. 

They will be asked to take further tests every week for the first five weeks, then every month for a year.

In total, the Government says some 25,000 people will take part in the pilot phase with plans to extend it to up to around 300,000 over the next 12 months.

Scientists will also analyse blood samples from adults in around 1,000 households to determine how many people have developed antibodies to the virus.

Nurses from the private firm IQVIA will carry out the antibody tests, to reduce the burden on NHS resources and personnel. 

Ministers announced plans to enrol up to 20,000 people to carry out the immunity tests earlier this month.

It is unclear when the scheme will be increased in size, or if officials have opted to carry out a smaller surveillance study. 

As well as the separate study, Public Health England has been analysing blood tests for antibodies since the beginning of April.

Officials said they were expanding the programme during April ‘so that we have the potential to test around 5,000 samples per week’.

But with just a week until May, figures show fewer than 5,000 samples – including just 51 yesterday – have been analysed at the Porton Down laboratory.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Understanding more about the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population, and the longer-term prevalence of antibodies, is a vital part of our ongoing response to this virus.

‘This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus.

‘Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a hybrid session of the House of Commons yesterday. He said the new survey will help track the current extent of transmission in the UK

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a hybrid session of the House of Commons yesterday. He said the new survey will help track the current extent of transmission in the UK

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a hybrid session of the House of Commons yesterday. He said the new survey will help track the current extent of transmission in the UK

Official statistics showed that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus continues to fall in many parts of the country

Official statistics showed that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus continues to fall in many parts of the country

Official statistics showed that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus continues to fall in many parts of the country

The number of new cases of the virus in the UK was up on the previous day but is down from over the weekend

The number of new cases of the virus in the UK was up on the previous day but is down from over the weekend

The number of new cases of the virus in the UK was up on the previous day but is down from over the weekend

Antibody testing is considered crucial in providing an exit pathway from the current lockdown, and also providing data to those developing a vaccine.

Health chiefs have yet to approve an antibody test for mass use, despite promises that one would be available to buy from Amazon or Boots weeks ago. 

But officials claim the home tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, saying they range from between 50 and 70 per cent.

Experts stress the more people screened, the clearer the picture on the true size of the UK’s crisis, which began spreading on British soil in February.  

Participants in the Government’s antibody test will be asked to give further samples monthly for the next 12 months.

Nose and throat swabs will be taken from all participating households, whether their members are reporting symptoms or not.

Blood for antibody tests will not be taken in any households where someone has symptoms of Covid-19 or is currently self-isolating or shielding.

The study will involve the University of Oxford, data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes.

DHSC said health workers will use precautions to protect themselves and volunteers from getting the virus.

Although swab test results will be given to participants via their GP, a letter seen by PA says those participating in the antibody test will not receive their results.

The de-identified blood samples will be sent to Oxford University to be tested for antibodies, while infection testing swabs are to be sent to UK Biocentre. 

A scientist holding an antibody test to use with a blood sample for the coronavirus at a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology at the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany

A scientist holding an antibody test to use with a blood sample for the coronavirus at a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology at the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany

A scientist holding an antibody test to use with a blood sample for the coronavirus at a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology at the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany

A lab technician wearing full PPE cleaning a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for coronavirus at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow yesterday

A lab technician wearing full PPE cleaning a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for coronavirus at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow yesterday

A lab technician wearing full PPE cleaning a test tube containing a live sample taken from people tested for coronavirus at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow yesterday

On Tuesday it was announced the first British human trials for a vaccine will begin recruiting volunteers this week. 

It is hoped the new inoculation, which normally would take around 18 months to develop, could see large-scale production under way as early as September – only nine months after the virus came to light in Wuhan, China. 

Yesterday the UK has announced 763 more hospital deaths from the coronavirus, taking Britain’s total number of victims to 18,100.

But the coronavirus outbreak in the UK may have killed more than 41,000 people already when non-hospital deaths are included.

An analysis of backdated statistics by the Financial Times has predicted that, by the time care home deaths and unrecorded hospital fatalities are added up, it could emerge that 41,102 people had died by April 21. The official toll was 17,337. 

What is the REAL death rate of COVID-19? Antibody testing studies suggest mortality rate is up to 70 TIMES lower than official figures – as scientists warn the number of infected is still too low to establish ‘herd immunity’

Coronavirus may kill 70 times fewer patients than official UK death figures suggest, studies have shown.

Britain has one of the worst COVID-19 testing records, meaning a frightening 13 per cent of diagnosed patients in the UK die from the disease. 

But this is considerably higher than the real death rate because it does not take into account the thousands of infected people who had mild symptoms. 

Scientists say the only way to work out the actual rate is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies, which the immune system makes once infected.

While the accuracy of these tests is up for debate, experts agree they give a much clearer indication of who has previously been infected – and are considered key to easing the draconian lockdowns imposed across the world.

Results of one antibody survey in Los Angeles suggested the illness may only kill around 0.18 per cent of coronavirus patients. 

It was based on the assumption that the true number of infections in LA was 330,000, far higher than the 7,994 that official figures showed when the study was published on April 20.

This is because tens of thousands of people develop such mild symptoms that they are never tested for the illness. 

Applying the same death rate to Britain’s coronavirus crisis would suggest that the number of Brits who had caught the virus is in the region of 9.5million – or 14 per cent. 

But Government advisers say the true number is likely to be a third of that, and some studies from France suggest it will only get up to 6 per cent in a matter of weeks.

Scientists say the only way to work out true coronavirus death rates is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies. Such studies have been carried out in the US, Germany, Holland and Finland (shown)

Scientists say the only way to work out true coronavirus death rates is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies. Such studies have been carried out in the US, Germany, Holland and Finland (shown)

Scientists say the only way to work out true coronavirus death rates is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies. Such studies have been carried out in the US, Germany, Holland and Finland (shown)

Official death rate are skewed by a lack of testing - the UK, for example, only checks people who are severely ill and some healthcare workers

Official death rate are skewed by a lack of testing - the UK, for example, only checks people who are severely ill and some healthcare workers

Official death rate are skewed by a lack of testing – the UK, for example, only checks people who are severely ill and some healthcare workers

A similar fatality rate (0.19 per cent) was found in a study of residents in Helsinki, Finland.

The samples were all taken from the region of Uusima, which is home to approximately 1.7million people – most of whom live in the capital of Helsinki. It found that 3.4 per cent of the population had antibodies.

At the time, only 2,000 cases had been confirmed by laboratory tests. But 3.4 per of the region’s population would equate to around 57,800.

WHAT DO THE ANTIBODY TESTS SHOW? 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 

Blood samples in Los Angeles suggest the coronavirus death rate could be around 0.18 per cent.

A study of 846 people found roughly 4.1 per cent of the county’s 3.9million population has antibodies to the virus.

It means that roughly 330,000 people have already caught the illness and built up some immunity to it.

There were officially 600 COVID-19 deaths when the research was conducted on April 20.

This suggests that around 0.18 per cent of patients fall victim to the disease. 

CHELSEA, BOSTON

US researchers in Boston found almost a third (31.5 per cent) of residents in the suburb of Chelsea had antibodies for the virus.

They collected blood samples from 200 random volunteers and said roughly 63 people had probably caught the illness.

The city of Chelsea is home to around 40,160 people. If the results were to be extrapolated to the whole city, it suggests 12,650 may have actually been infected.

When the study was published on April 17, Chelsea had suffered 39 deaths to coronavirus.

The finding suggests the true death rate it around 0.31 per cent.

GANGELT, GERMANY

Scientists studying Gangelt, dubbed the ‘German Wuhan’, found as many as 15 per cent of people may have already been infected with the virus.

Data shows around 12,500 people live in the municipality, which sits in the North-Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

If the results were to be extrapolated to the whole of Gangelt, it would mean that around 1,900 people have already caught the deadly virus.

It is not clear exactly how many people had died in Gangelt by the time that the University of Bonn study of 1,000 people was published.

But the team – whose work was not scrutinised and published in a journal – estimated the true death rate was in the region of 0.37 per cent.  

THE NETHERLANDS

An antibody surveillance scheme in the Netherlands suggested the death rate for COVID-19 could actually be in the region of 0.63 per cent.

Dutch researchers found antibodies in three per cent of blood donors, after analysing samples from around 7,000 people aged between 18 and 69.

The head of the Netherlands’ National Institute for Health told MPs it meant that ‘several hundred thousand people’ may have already been infected.

Around 17.28million people live in the Netherlands. Three per cent of the country’s population would equate to approximately 518,400. 

When results were published on April 16, official figures showed that 3,315 people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

HELSINKI, FINLAND

Finnish researchers analysed around 150 blood samples by mid-April and found 3.4 per cent had antibodies for the coronavirus.

The samples were all taken from the region of Uusima, which is home to approximately 1.7million people – most of whom live in the capital of Helsinki.

At the time, only 2,000 cases had been confirmed by laboratory tests. But 3.4 per of the region’s population would equate to around 57,800.

Only 110 deaths have been registered in Uusima to-date – suggesting that the true fatality rate is closer to the 0.19 per cent mark.  

The study was released on April 15 – but the region’s death toll has barely changed in the past week. It was not published in a journal.

SANTA CLARA, LOS ANGELES

A study of 3,300 people in the Californian city of Santa Clara suggested 1.8 per cent of people who catch coronavirus die.

Lead authors Jay Bhattacharya and Eran Bendavid, who study health policy at Stanford University, said around 3 per cent of people had antibodies.

Santa Clara, in California’s Silicon Valley, is home to 130,000 people. If the 3 per cent was applied to the whole city it would mean 3,900 people have been infected.

The region had suffered 70 deaths at the time of the research on April 18, suggesting the true death rate is 1.8 per cent.

Only 110 deaths have been registered in Uusima to-date – suggesting that the true fatality rate is closer to the 0.19 per cent mark.  By comparison, the flu kills roughly 0.1 per cent of the people it infects. 

In other antibody surveillance studies, the death rate was revealed to be higher but still considerably less than the UK’s tally.

Samples in Gangelt, dubbed the ‘German Wuhan’, estimated the true death rate was in the region of 0.37 per cent.  

An antibody surveillance scheme in the US city of Chelsea, in Massachusetts, predicted the city has a death rate of 0.31 per cent.  

And a sample in the Netherlands suggested the death rate for COVID-19 could actually be in the region of 0.63 per cent.  

The varying death rates prove the true lethality of the disease is still unknown, but the antibody studies are starting to paint a clearer picture.

Dr Joe Grove, a virologist at University College London, told MailOnline: ‘Antibody testing is important because the better we understand the virus, the better we can respond to it.

‘The true death rate allows public health experts and epidemiologist to asses what the effects of another epidemic would be.

‘A lot of our current policy has been determined by the predictions of computer simulations. But those models are only as good as the data you put into them. 

‘So there would’ve been estimates of death rates and infections, but as we get firmer numbers we can run more accurate simulations and predict with more confidence what might happen in future. 

‘This is critical for working out if given epidemic will overwhelm the healthcare system again.’ 

Another scientist – Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from Sydney, Australia – said he was ‘confused’ at experts arguing COVID-19 had a death rate similar to the flu.

He tweeted: ‘Currently, 14,800 people in New York have died. That’s 0.18 per cent OF THE ENTIRE CITY. Unless 100 per cent are infected, it’s not as low as 0.1-0.2 per cent.’

The new antibody studies are giving researchers a clearer idea of the actual number of infections in the population.

Even in the worst-hit regions, fewer than 10 per cent of the population have been infected. 

This signals that countries should not pin their hopes on ‘herd immunity’ preventing a second wave of COVID-19, scientists say.  

When enough of a population, roughly 60 to 70 per cent, build up antibodies against an infection, it stunts the virus’ ability to spread.

Herd immunity was controversially touted as a way out of the crisis by the UK’s scientific advisers at the beginning of the outbreak.

Officials proposed letting the majority of the population catch and beat the disease because the virus’ symptoms in most people is mild.

The government based its planning on the assumption that if the virus was allowed to spread unchecked it would eventually infect 80 per cent of the population. That figure appears to have been borrowed from planning for flu pandemics.  

But research is beginning to show that nowhere near enough people will catch the virus in the first wave to create the indirect community protection.  

Research at the Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, found that about 2.4 per cent of its employees and patients had developed antibodies against COVID-19.

In France, the Pasteur Institute estimates that less than 6 per cent will have been caught it by May 11, when the country’s lockdown is due to end. 

That makes a resurgence of the virus highly likely if restrictions were lifted without a vaccine, experts said.

Simon Cauchemez, lead author of the institute’s study, said: ‘For collective immunity to be effective in avoiding a second wave, we would have to have immunisation for 70 per cent of the population. 

‘We are well below this. If we want to avoid a major second wave, some measures will have to be maintained.’

Countries are moving towards antibody sampling to get a clearer idea of how the infection has spread and how many people may be immune to the disease.

They are considered the key to letting countries out of lockdown safely without a second wave of cases.

But British health chiefs have still only carried out fewer than 5,000 antibody tests – despite mass schemes being carried out across the globe. 

Italy has begun screening the blood of 20,000 people a day, while one programme in the US will involve 40,000 healthcare workers.

Germany plans to test 15,000 people and apply the findings to its whole population, and even Andorra has ordered 150,000 kits – enough to give its entire population two each.

Antibodies are proteins in the blood which reveal if someone has already fought off an infection, including the deadly coronavirus.

Health chiefs have plans to conduct the ‘biggest surveys in the world’ to discover how many of the population have some sort of immunity to the virus.

But they are miles off the 5,000 per week target – Department of Health data shows only 600 were carried out at the Porton Down laboratory yesterday.

Officials promised Britons would be able to do antibody tests in the comfort of their own home in the near future, buying them from Amazon or Boots.

But officials claim the tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, saying they range from between 50 and 70 per cent.

Experts stress the more people screened, the clearer the picture on the true size of the UK’s crisis, which began spreading on British soil in February.  

WHAT IS AN ANTIBODY TEST?

An antibody test is one which tests whether someone’s immune system is equipped to fight a specific disease or infection.

When someone gets infected with a virus their immune system must work out how to fight it off and produce substances called antibodies.

These are extremely specific and are usually only able to tackle one strain of one virus. They are produced in a way which makes them able to latch onto that specific virus and destroy it.

For example, if someone catches COVID-19, they will develop COVID-19 antibodies for their body to use to fight it off.

The body then stores versions of these antibodies in the immune system so that if it comes into contact with that same virus again it will be able to fight it off straight away and probably avoid someone feeling any symptoms at all.

To test for these antibodies, medics or scientists can take a fluid sample from someone – usually blood – and mix it with part of the virus to see if there is a reaction between the two.

If there is a reaction, it means someone has the antibodies and their body knows how to fight off the infection – they are immune. If there is no reaction it means they have not had it yet. 

Original Source