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Survey says 148,000 people in England had virus recently as UK’s confirmed death toll nears 34,000


A man is seen wearing a protective face shield in Brixton on May 14, 2020. (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)
A man is seen wearing a protective face shield in Brixton on May 14, 2020. (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

THE officially confirmed Covid-19 death toll in the UK rose by 428 to 33,614, the health department said on Thursday (14).

An update from the officials also showed that more than 126,000 tests were carried out on May 13.

According to results from a large-scale study into the spread of the disease, about 148,000 people in England had Covid-19 in recent weeks.

The Office for National Statistics said it estimated that about 0.27 per cent of England’s population were carrying the disease during the April 27 to May 10 survey period — slightly higher than an estimate of 0.24 per cent published on Monday.

But there is a wide range of uncertainty around the true number of people infected, which the ONS said could range from 94,000 to 222,000 at a standard 95 per cent confidence interval.

The estimate was based on swab tests performed on 10,705 people across 5,276 households, rather than in hospitals or care homes, said the ONS, which conducted with the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.

Britain, meanwhile, is in talks with Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG to buy an accurate Covid-19 antibody test, following the lead of the European Union and the United States, which had already given preliminary approval to the tests.

Mass antibody testing with millions of kits is being considered by many countries as a way to speed the reopening of economies devastated by the lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

A Public Health England laboratory concluded on May 7 that the Roche test detected the exact antibodies prompted by the virus, but the findings were only made public late on Wednesday.

“This has the potential to be a game changer,” Edward Argar, Britain’s junior health minister said on Thursday.

“We are now moving as fast as we can to discuss with Roche purchasing of those but I can’t give you an exact date when we’ll be able to start rolling them out.”

The Roche test received a conformity assessment, known as Conformité Européenne, or CE mark, from the European Union on April 28 and received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 2.

Roche said it was able to produce hundreds of thousands of the tests per week for the United Kingdom. Germany is getting three million of them this month, and five million a month after June.

BLOOD TEST

The antibody tests – also known as a serology test – show who has been infected, although it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies to the new coronvirus, SARS-CoV-2, confers permanent immunity.

They require a blood test that can be run on fully-automated equipment in laboratories to provide results in just 18 minutes.

Britain’s health ministry did not answer questions about how many tests it has ordered.

“We are exploring the use of antibody testing across the NHS and ultimately the wider public,” a ministry spokesman said, adding that the government was “actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing”.

Similar antibody tests have also been developed by companies including U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories and Italy’s DiaSorin. Abbott and Germany’s Siemens Healthineers have separately laid out plans to produce 20 million tests or more per month for the global market from June.

Based in Basel, Switzerland, Roche said it is ramping up capacity to produce high double digit millions of tests per month to serve countries accepting the CE mark and the United States.

“The test requires a blood sample to be taken by a qualified healthcare professional and processed in a laboratory,” Roche said, adding that it was one of the most accurate tests on the market with over 99.8 specificity.

“This level of accuracy is vitally important because there are a number of viruses with very similar antibodies to Covid-19, including the common cold, and other SARS strains, which can produce a positive result in some less accurate antibody tests.”

Britain’s approval of a COVID-19 antibody test is an “important breakthrough” and might lead to Britons being able to use health certificates if antibodies are present, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

The antibody tests – also known as serology tests – show who has been infected, although it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies to the new coronavirus confers permanent immunity.

“We’ve talked about in the future the potential for some kind of health certificate related to whether or not you have antibodies but we need a better understanding of the immune system response to the virus and the length and level of immunity following infection to better understand the potential of the test,” the spokesman told reporters.

“It’s clearly an important breakthrough that we have a test which has been found to be highly specific, but work will continue to better understand the full potential of the tests… It does continue to have the potential to be a game changer.”