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21May

Health workers to be offered antibody testing for COVID-19

Social care staff and NHS workers will be offered antibody testing from next week, the Government is due to announce. The roll-out will provide a clearer picture on coronavirus transmission within the health sector and should ease anxiety experienced by those battling the virus on the frontline. This comes as Public Health England has approved the use of antibody tests from Roche, Abbott and Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics after validation procedures. Priority will be given to those working most closely with COVID-19 patients such as workers in intensive-care units, doctors and nurses in A&E and coronavirus-specific wards.

Experts have warned that the launch of antibody testing could result in people acquiring a false sense of security if they test positive for past coronavirus infection. The question of immunity remains unresolved, with no current evidence of the duration or even the existence of immunity from the virus. Scientists have insisted that a positive antibody test result does not absolve anyone from the need to adhering to social distancing guidelines or wearing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.

Alongside testing for healthcare workers and social care staff, studies in the general population are beginning, the aim of which is to provide clarity on virus immunity. Large cohorts will be subject to antibody testing at regular intervals to indicate whether, or who, can acquire immunity from the virus and for how long this lasts. Several of these studies have begun, including one from Biobank. It plans to test 20,000 participants, their parents and grandchildren. Private antibody testing is now on the rise with tests being sold by brands like the high-street retailer Superdrug and at private clinics. 

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