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Politics

Hancock asks industry leaders to help find viable antibody test


The health secretary, Matt Hancock, will ask industry leaders to help the UK find an antibody test that works.

Hancock will issue the plea on a conference call on Wednesday, echoing his call for help on ventilators, after the government conceded that none of the antibody tests it has are good enough for mass usage.

Biotech companies will be asked to help identify and mass-produce a fingerprick test that is accurate enough to offer to the general population to see if they have had coronavirus.

At the moment the UK is relying on laboratory tests to show whether a patient currently has coronavirus, and there is capacity to test 14,000 people a day – typically those in hospital, care homes or prisons, or NHS workers.

The government is targeting 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, with both types – lab tests and fingerprick tests – making up the total. But it looks increasingly unlikely that an antibody test will be ready in time.

Experts believe both types are needed to help at least partially end the lockdown and start returning people to work. The UK has been criticised for its slow start on ramping up testing.

Edward Argar, a health minister, said on Wednesday that the UK “hasn’t got the testing issue wrong”, after Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said there were lessons to learn from Germany’s high testing rate and slower increase in deaths.


Argar, who toured the broadcast studios, said the UK recognised it needed to ramp up the number of tests being carried out but he downplayed the importance of Germany as a model to follow.

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He said the UK was seeing “rapid increases in testing” and Hancock was determined to meet his target of 100,000 a day.

Asked about Whitty’s view that Germany had “got ahead” on testing, Argar said there were other factors in the country’s apparent success in flattening its curve.

“I would absolutely expect him to say we need to look at what other countries have done that has had a really positive impact,” he told Sky News. “But I would come back to his caveats in which he did also say there were a whole range of factors for why Germany’s death rate does at the moment appear to be lower.”

He also repeated suggestions that the UK lockdown was likely to be extended next week, even though the government has refused to confirm that.

“We need to start seeing the numbers coming down and that’s when you’re in the negative,” he told BBC Breakfast. “That’s when you have a sense when that’s sustained over a period of time, that you can see it coming out of that. We’re not there yet and I don’t exactly know when we will be.”

Experts have said the UK should not be coming out of the lockdown without developing a clear strategy for stamping out the virus through mass testing.


Whitty, when asked on Tuesday about the differences with Germany, said: “We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus, and there’s a lot to learn from that.”

Germany is able to test 500,000 patients a week and is under pressure to increase this further.

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The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, had given a more circumspect reply, saying: “The German curve looks as though it’s lower at the moment, and that is important, and I don’t have a clear answer to exactly what is the reason for that.”



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