New coronavirus antibody test found to have 100%…
A new coronavirus antibody test which could prove vital to easing lockdown restrictions has been found to be 100 per cent accurate and is now approved for public use in the UK, public health bosses said last night.
The test, which Boris Johnson previously called a ‘game-changer’, will identity all those who have had Covid-19, people who could be immune from re-catching for up to three years.
The Government was yesterday in talks with Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant behind the test, to buy millions of the kits.
Public Health England (PHE) announced scientific experts had carried out an independent evaluation of the antibody blood test at its Porton Down facility, and found its results to be ‘highly specific’, identifying every sample from someone who had previously tested positive for coronavirus.
The findings were hailed as a ‘very positive development’ in combating the coronavirus outbreak.
The test is designed to help determine if a patient has been exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19 and whether they have developed antibodies against it.
Antibody testing, as opposed to antigen tests which look for active viruses, will be key to reopening Britain. A 100 per cent accurate test would enable ministers to reconsider the idea of ‘immunity passports’ so people who have fought off the illness can return to work.
The passports have been mooted by countries across the world as part of the path out of lockdown, but plans were shelved pending a test accurate enough to rely on.
The news comes as Boris Johnson’s government considers the steps Britain must take to balance fighting the virus through lockdowns with economic damage that causes – which was yesterday said to be sparking a ‘recession to end all recessions’.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already issued an emergency use approval for the antibody test, called Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2.
Roche said in a statement late Wednesday it is in talks with National Health Service and the UK government about a phased roll-out of antibody test kits as soon as possible.
Boris Johnson this week set out his desire to test up to 250,000 people a day, despite current rates being stalled between 80,000 and 100,000 most days.
A Government source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We want to get our hands on as many of these as possible.’
Roche added it will be able to provide hundreds of thousands of antibody test kits to the UK per week.
Professor John Newton, national coordinator of the UK Coronavirus Testing Programme, said: ‘We were confident that good quality antibody tests would become available when they were needed.
‘Last week, scientific experts at PHE Porton Down carried out an independent evaluation of the new Roche Sars-CoV-2 serology assay in record time, concluding that it is a highly specific assay with specificity of 100 per cent.
‘This is a very positive development because such a highly specific antibody test is a very reliable marker of past infection.
‘This in turn may indicate some immunity to future infection although the extent to which the presence of anti-bodies indicates immunity remains unclear.’
The latest extraordinary developments on coronavirus came as:
The Roche test received its CE mark of health and safety approval across the European Economic Area on April 28.
The Government has previously suggested that the tests could be used to grant those who test negative ‘immunity certificates’ that could see them free from restrictions to return to work.
The Prime Minister has previously described such a programme of testing a ‘game changer’ in the strategy to get unlock the country.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said last night: ‘This is potentially very exciting news for people who work in the NHS and care sector who have been most exposed to the virus. If we can establish that anti- bodies give you immunity it would mean you can go back to work safely.’
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was delighted that devices were progressing through validation and was working on plans to roll out antibody testing.
It added that an announcement will be made ‘in due course’.
A spokeswoman said: ‘Antibody testing is an important part of our strategy to counter the spread of Covid-19 and to help us understand who has had the disease.
‘In addition to the recent huge expansion of the UK’s swab-based coronavirus testing capacity, we are exploring the use of antibody testing across the NHS and ultimately the wider public.
‘We are delighted that devices are progressing through validation, and are actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing and will make announcements in due course.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week said the UK was in talks with Roche about a ‘very large-scale roll-out’ of coronavirus antibody testing.
Speaking at the Downing Street press briefing on May 4, Mr Hancock said: ‘Today, Roche, the Swiss global diagnostics company, made a very positive announcement about progress with their antibody test and we’re in discussions with them about a very large-scale roll-out of antibody testing, as well as with some others who may be able to bring this forward.’
But Mr Hancock acknowledged that there had been problems with antibody testing.
‘There has been false hope before in antibody testing and so we’ll make announcements when we’re absolutely ready,’ he said.
The government was left red-faced when they were forced to admit that none of the 3.5 million antibody tests ordered from China in March were fit for widespread use.
Professor John Newton, who was appointed by health secretary Matt Hancock to oversee testing, reportedly said the tests were only able to identify immunity in people who had been severely sick with coronavirus.
The tests did not pass the evaluation stage, and he was quoted by The Times as saying they were ‘not good enough to be worth rolling out in very large scale’.
FOUR PER CENT OF UK MAY HAVE ALREADY HAD COVID-19, EARLY DATA SUGGESTS
Sir Patrick Vallance, Number 10’s chief scientific adviser, revealed last night in the Downing Street press conference that around four per cent of Britain and 10 per cent of London has developed antibodies against COVID-19, meaning they have already had the infection.
The estimate – based on data from antibody testing across the home nations carried out a fortnight ago – means only around 2.64million Brits have had the infection.
It also suggests the illness kills around 1.21 per cent of all cases, making it around 12 times deadlier than the flu.
However, the infection fatality rate could be even higher, when the thousands of the UK’s hidden COVID-19 deaths are included in the tally.
Estimates on backdated data from the Office for National Statistics suggest at least 45,550 Britons have actually died – a death rate of around 1.73 per cent.
Sir Patrick said results suggest around 10 per cent of people whose blood was analysed in London tested positive for antibodies.
This means around 900,000 people in the capital have developed some form of immunity to the virus. Around 8,000 people are estimated to have died in London – giving COVID-19 a death rate of 0.89 per cent in London.
But the rate of people who tested positive for antibodies across the whole of Britain is around 4 per cent – 15 times lower than what is needed for the nation to develop any kind of herd immunity.
Sir Patrick Vallance has previously said around 60 per cent of the population need to catch the virus to build up a national tolerance to curb the spread.
The latest development in the coronavirus testing saga comes as high street pharmacist Boots announces plans to recruit an army of volunteers to carry out coronavirus tests as Boris Johnson scrambles to hit his testing target.
Boots, in partnership with the Government, is now advertising for 1,000 current staff and unpaid volunteers to work at least 32 hours a week as Covid-19 swab testers.
But unions have accused ministers of ‘taking advantage of people’s good nature’, insisting the programme ‘takes the notion of volunteering way too far’.
The volunteer Covid-19 tester adverts, posted on Boots’ website, said that more support with testing was required because of the ‘significant’ amount of screening required to combat the virus.
It said it was working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set up and staff a number of test stations across the country.
Volunteers should be able to work at least 32 hours a week and full training and NHS-standard protective equipment would be provided, it said.
It added: ‘Screening is currently taking place, however the volumes required to combat the virus are significant and it is clear more support is required for testing.
‘We have been asked to support the country’s efforts to understand infection rates and help with workforce demands to allow the NHS to continue caring for patients.
‘We are seeking to recruit up to 1,000 Boots colleagues and volunteers to work as part of a team of test operatives nationally undertaking Covid-19 swab testing in locations across the UK.
‘These colleagues will work alongside both Boots teams and other partners in the project in groups currently of up to five in designated locations with each site have a designated site manager.’
But Unison said that, unless Boots is offering its services for free to the Government, it should not expect volunteers to do so as well.
Don’t raise taxes to pay for coronavirus bailout, PM is warned as senior Tories say country is at its ‘taxable limit’ and raiding wallets will only make the situation worse amid warnings of a mega-recession
by JASON GROVES and JAMES SALMON for the Daily Mail and JAMES TAPSFIELD and SEBASTIAN MURPHY-BATES for MailOnline
Boris Johnson was last night warned against raising taxes to pay for the coronavirus bailout debts, as senior Conservatives said it would only prolong the pain from any impending recession.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday warned the country ‘will face a significant recession this year’ after much of the economy was shut down in a bid to control coronavirus.
And leaked Treasury documents yesterday put the cost of coronavirus to the UK economy at around £300bn this year, sparking fears taxes would have to rise and the triple-lock on pensions could be axed to foot the bill.
But last night one cabinet minister said raising taxes would be the wrong approach for the Government. Instead, the minister urged for the debt to be paid over decades, like money owed from wartime.
He told the Times: ‘It is completely the wrong approach; it would entrench the downturn. We should be looking at policies that open up the economy — we will need fiscal stimulus. Taxes need to be lower rather than higher.’
And former minister Steve Baker added he believed the UK was ‘already at the taxable limit’.
Fears of a ‘mega recession’ grew as Downing Street refused to say whether previous Conservative manifesto pledges on tax and pensions still applied.
Official figures showed the economy shrank by 2 per cent in the first three months of this year – the sharpest contraction since the global financial crisis of 2008.
In March, as the lockdown began, GDP fell by 5.8 per cent, the biggest monthly contraction on record.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was ‘very likely the UK economy will face a significant recession this year and we are in the middle of that as we speak’.
He said the official data underlined why the Government had taken ‘unprecedented action’ to support jobs by committing to subsidising the wages of 7.5million furloughed workers until the end of October.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: ‘It’s a mega recession, it’s a recession to end all recessions in terms of its scale.
‘The second quarter is going to be much more dramatic with a quarter of the economy pretty much shut down.’
Predicting the economy will shrink by more than 25 per cent in the second quarter, he added: ‘We can get over a year of misery and bounce back but I don’t know how fast the bounce back is going to be.’
Leaked Treasury analysis yesterday revealed ministers have been told to expect Britain’s budget deficit to soar to £337billion this year because of the lockdown.
Although Mr Sunak is said to have accepted that the crisis will leave the UK’s long-term debt higher, the Treasury paper suggests he will have to find up to £30billion a year just to service the increased debt.
Whitehall sources played down the significance of the document, saying ministers were focused on addressing the immediate crisis.
One source described the document as ‘total garbage’ – and suggested early tax rises were unlikely.
Mr Sunak said it was ‘premature to speculate’ about how the huge cost of dealing with the crisis would be paid for.
But the Treasury document warns that it is likely to involve a package of tax rises and spending cuts in the longer term.
It states that it will be ‘very challenging’ to raise this sum without breaking Boris Johnson’s ‘tax lock’ – a manifesto pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT.
It also suggests that ‘stopping the rising cost’ of the pensions triple lock could produce savings of £8billion a year.
Firms warn of mass job losses if government makes them share furlough costs
Bosses have warned there will inevitably be mass job losses when employers are asked to start sharing up to 50 per cent of the cost of the government’s furlough scheme in August.
Representatives from the sectors hardest hit by the lockdown have voiced concern that even the Chancellor’s multi-billion-pound bailout will not go far enough.
The retail sector, which has seen sales nosedive after shops shuttered, will ‘inevitably’ have fewer store staff going forward, it is feared.
Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, told MailOnline: ‘There’s no two ways about this there will be fewer jobs in retail as we emerge out of this crisis.
‘There will be administrations that are yet to happen. The government’s support measures are providing a lifeline to keep businesses afloat and preserve cash and continue to operate and allow them the working capital to do that.
He added: ‘For some businesses, they will have some staff on furlough who they will realise that are unlikely to be coming back to the same roles as before, if they have those roles at all.’
Mr Lim added that retailers would likely shift more weight behind online selling and would ‘absolutely try’ to retain store staff if possible, but this could mean fewer hours or job sharing.
The picture in the travel sector looks equally as bleak, with summer holidays abroad all but cancelled for Britons.
Airlines have been forced to furlough thousands of staff as countries around the world enforce flight freezes to stem the spread of the virus.
IAG, the parent company of British Airways, said the Chancellor’s extension to the furlough funding will not plug the enormous loss of revenue in the long-term.
The triple lock guarantees that pensions will rise by at least 2.5 per cent or in line with inflation or average earnings, whichever is highest. This was also guaranteed in the Tories’ manifesto in December.
The PM’s spokesman refused to say whether such manifesto pledges still stand, saying: ‘It’s too early to speculate about any future decisions. We’re facing a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and we remain committed to the agenda that was set out in the Budget.’
Meanwhile the respected IFS think-tank said the scale of the nose-dive due to coronavirus lockdown will be like nothing seen before, while the NIESR forecast that UK plc will shrink by 25-30 per cent in the current three month period.
Even its optimistic estimate suggested that the economy will not reach pre-crisis levels until the end of 2021.
The dire assessments came after official statistics this morning showed GDP was down 2 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 and plunged 5.8 per cent in March – the largest monthly fall on record.
But although the three-month fall was the worst since the end of 2008 at the height of the credit crunch, it is just the tip of the iceberg as it includes just one week of the full lockdown.
The NIESR figures are in line with the scenario from the Bank of England that GDP will slump by 25 per cent this quarter before bouncing back. The 14 per cent over the year would be the worst recession in 300 years, since the Great Frost swept Europe in 1709.
Meanwhile, former chancellor Lord Lamont said much of the economy cannot recover until social distancing ends.
‘There are whole sectors of the economy – hospitality accounting for 10 per cent of the labour force, airlines, transport – that simply cannot operate with social distancing profitability,’ he told the House of Lords today.
The FTSE closed down just over 1.5 per cent at 5,904.05 this evening as the markets digested the numbers.