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Britain will buy 10 million coronavirus antibody tests from two major health care companies and begin administering them to health care workers as early as next week, officials said on Thursday. The tests, produced by Roche and Abbott, will be produced over the next several months, Reuters reported.
“We have signed contracts to supply in the coming months over 10 million tests from Roche and Abbott,” health minister Matt Hancock said, according to Reuters. “From next week, we will begin rolling these out in a phased way; at first, to health and care staff, patients and residents.”
The move comes after the British government in March spent $20 million on two million antibody test kits that were produced in China, and were later found to be defunct, according to the New York Times. At the time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the test would be “as simple as a pregnancy test,” and had the “potential to be a total gamechanger.”
The mad dash to develop and obtain coronavirus antibody tests, also known as serology tests, came after officials said it would be key in determining who could safely return to work, and when they could begin reopening economies. However, it is now not clear if testing positive for coronavirus antibodies translates to permanent immunity.
The tests typically consist of a finger prick, and the blood is then analyzed for IgM and IgG antibodies to signal if you have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The test is not a diagnostic tool for coronavirus, but rather to test for prior exposure to COVID-19.
Researchers believe the test will help better determine how widespread the virus is, and help better determine the lethality and seriousness of the illness. Those who test positive for antibodies are also encouraged to donate convalescent plasma to help treat patients most severely sickened by the illness.